While many kids look forward to holiday breaks, for some, school is the only place they find consistency. For some students living in poverty, their time in school means that being warm and fed is a guarantee. Turquoise LeJeune Parker, an elementary school library teacher in North Carolina, knows that many of her students’ families struggle financially. Each year, the 34-year-old teacher raises money to purchase food, sending students home with enough to get them through winter break. This year, Parker raised a staggering $106,000 – every penny of which went to help her beloved students.
Turquoise LeJeune Parker is the type of teacher kids remember for the rest of their lives. Her deep commitment to her students is evident in everything she does, both inside and outside of the classroom.
“I call my students Mrs. Parker’s professors. If that tells you anything, it’s that I believe in them and I love them so very much,” Parker told CNN. “‘I need them to know that I love them, to remind them that love is an action word. I will tell them all day, but I will also show them all day.”
According to the USDA, more than 12 million children in the United States struggle with food insecurity. For students, this means that meals outside of school aren’t guaranteed. During her annual fundraisers, Parker aims to bridge the gap for as many students as possible, providing food they wouldn’t otherwise have until they’re back in school.
Generous donors and community partners stepped up in droves, sharing what they could with the students of Durham. Stunned and moved by the generosity of strangers, the dedicated teacher did what most of us do when we need a whole lot of something – she took the funds and headed straight to Costco.
Volunteers helped Parker pack over 5,200 bags full of food, which they then distributed to students in need across 12 schools in Durham. Parker focuses her efforts on schools that need the most support, with 98% of their students dependent on subsidized lunches. But when school closes, the students’ one guaranteed meal is no longer available.
“It’s a basic human right. We’re not talking about raising money to buy people a vacation; this is food, a very, very basic thing,” Parker said. “We need to make sure we take care of our schools, because when we take care of our schools, we’re taking care of our community.”
If you want to help other students who struggle with food insecurity, you can do so here, or check with your local food bank.