Cookies and kindness

Students send gifts to Army members, children with cancer

Since the start of the school year, North Bergen High School students have been making crafts and cookies, writing letters to soldiers in Afghanistan and children with cancer in Palisades Medical Center. “We send out at least five dozens of cookies for each package,” says high school teacher Marlene Sapoff.
The after-school group of at least 30 students meets every week and separates into groups. One group of about 10 students send out crafts, including do-it-yourself craft kits and letters, to children at the hospital who are going through cancer or blood treatments.
The other groups are separated to prepare and bake dozens of chocolate chip cookies. Group one mixes the batter and puts it on cookie sheets, and three other groups cook the batches.
Student Carolyn Valdez, 16, likes being in the group that cleans all the cookie sheets, bowls, and utensils. Sapoff sends everything out at the end of the week.
Student Andres Piantino, 14, said his cousin used to be in the military. “I know how it is,” he said. That cousin’s son had cancer at 4 years old.
“I really wanted to help,” he said. “I didn’t have home economics, and I wanted to learn how to cook, too.”
Nine years ago, Sapoff started the after-school group for North Bergen High School. The group, Family Careers and Community Leaders of America, is a national career and student organization. North Bergen High School is the only high school sending cookies through Treat the Troops, a nationwide organization that sends cookies and letters to soldiers.
At first, the group only sent cookies to troops. In 2014, Sapoff wanted to get the students involved in something different, so she reached out to Palisades Medical Center. Now as much as 35 students attend the once a week program to do what interests them, like cooking, drawing, or writing.
Some students like Lesly Almonte, 17, are learning career skills by helping with paperwork or taking attendance.
“Sending the cookies out makes me feel so good inside,” Almonte said. “We’re helping troops and their families, because it can be hard on both of them.” She said she got interested in the group after learning she could bake every week. “Those cookies are a moment of joy for them.”

By last May, the group had sent out 14,614 cookies.
President of the club Gian Morales, 16, said, “I wanted to join the group because I think Mrs. Sapoff has great intentions, and she’s an inspiration to me.” As president, he tries to make the club more fun for students and helps others with their group task.
Student Jonisa H., 16, said, “It’s amazing what we’re doing.” This is her first year in the club, and she likes the craft table the most. “I’m very artistic.”
“I love being part of this club, because it feels good to be here, and we know that this is going a long way,” said student Jamie Perez, 16.
By last May, the group had sent out 14,614 cookies.
“It makes me feel happy to send the cookies,” said Yesenia Gonzalez, 16. This is also Gonzalez’s first time in the club, and her first time learning to bake cookies.
“This is all about helping our society and soldiers. We’re trying to make the world a better place,” student Magdiel Entenza, 16, said. “I’ve never baked before, so this is a great experience. I learn something new every day.”
Entenza said, “I get emotional, in a good way, knowing we made a difference in sending these cookies. I hope they put a happy face on the soldiers.”
The group has received plenty of thank you e-mails from soldiers and nurses from the medical center. Since the group raises money on their own to purchase all baking and craft equipment, the school is taking donations to help them. For more information call 201-295-2800. The group will raise funds at this year’s Winterfest through face painting.

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