Things got a little hairy at North Syracuse Junior High School the week before the holiday break.
But it’s okay; it was all for a good cause.
Thirty members of the staff at the school signed up to grow beards in support of NSJHS’s Beards for Bread fundraiser, which aimed to raise money for the Community Food Pantry at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church. The idea came from math teacher Zach Mekker and science teacher Jason Shannon, according to Assistant Principal Chuck Yonko.
“The idea is that we wanted to raise money for the food pantry, and we wanted a little bit of a different way to do it,” Yonko said. “This is a little bit of a morale boost for the staff and for the kids and a way to have fun before the holidays.”
Yonko said the school has done some less-than-traditional fundraisers in the past.
“In the past, we’ve done an ugly sweater contest,” he said. “In fact, I think some of the ladies here are doing that as a counterpart to the Beards for Bread, though not as a fundraiser.”
For this fundraiser, male staffers, including teachers, custodians and administrators, started growing beards last month. Staffers were teamed up in groups of two or three. Last week, they were photographed, and their pictures were put on posters; the posters were then put up so that the students could vote for their favorite. They could also vote in other categories like “Best beard” and “ugliest.” Votes were cast by dropping change into a jar in front of that group’s poster. The winner was determined based on who had the most change and declared to the school during its televised announcements Friday morning. At the end of the contest, all of the money was donated to the food pantry.
Yonko said Beards for Bread seemed like a more engaging fundraiser than a simple canned food drive
“I know in part, the idea was to do something unique,” he said. “We do the traditional charitable things throughout the year; we have a hat and glove drive and a canned food drive going on in the building. But the organizers wanted to make it different. Junior high kids are a different breed. They’re a fun group, and something like this, they respond to very well. Doing a canned food drive is nice, but doing something like this really makes school fun. More importantly, it shows them the human side of their teachers, really makes those connections.”
In addition, it helps both students and staff get through those last few weeks of the semester before Christmas break, which can seem slow and boring.
“We’re at the halfway point of the year, and sometimes things tend to drag,” Yonko said. “This is something that just livens things up to get everyone through to break.”
Moreover, it serves a desperate need in the community.
“There’s always a need in the community for a variety of things, whether it’s for a hat and glove drive or at the food pantries,” he said. “We see the ups and downs, and with this economy, there’s an even greater need. And there’s always an awareness of that among our students and staff that there are those less fortunate than them. Many times, our students are affected.”
The holidays, he said, are always a good time to undertake a fundraiser like this one, because everyone’s in the mood to give.
“Obviously, this isn’t the only time of year these things are done, but this is when the giving spirit is at its highest,” Yonko said. “The kids tend to be really thinking about those less fortunate than them, while the rest of the year, they may not be at the forefront of [the kids’] minds.”
All in all, Beards for Bread is a win-win for the school and the community.
“Everybody benefits,” Yonko said. “The Community Food Pantry at St. Rose of Lima Church benefits. Certainly our students and staff [got] a good laugh out of it.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club’s Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.