Brighton’s Thomas A. Edison K-8 School held a ceremony, dubbed “Celebration of Champions,” in support of its students who are experiencing homelessness and food insecurity on Thursday morning. Thanks to a $10,000 donation from the Red Sox’s Dustin Pedroia and New Balance, organizers provided each child a blue plastic gift bag packed with brand new sweatshirts, sweatpants, socks, and sneakers.
“We wanted to honor all of you because we understand how hard you are working,” Sam Varano, the school’s principal, told the room of nearly 50 students. “You come here every day. You travel long distances.”
The ceremony was held in the elementary music room, which was filled with laughter as students ages 5 through 13 filed into the space. The morning announcements and the Queen song “We Are The Champions” overlapped their chatter.
A relationship between Pedroia’s wife, Kelli, and Jen Amendola, a kindergarten teacher at the school, led to the donation. Amendola works summers as a nanny for the Red Sox at Fenway Park and had partnered with the couple before to help food-insecure students.
The Pedroias approached Amendola with the donation shortly before the holidays in December. Amendola and other organizers compiled a list of 50 students who had been identified by educators as either low-income or homeless.
“We try and get to know our kids very well,” Varano said. “It’s not uncommon for a teacher to know what’s going on in the afternoon when students go home.”
Amendola then talked to each child to find out their shoe and clothing size. She wanted students to feel like the clothes were custom-tailored to them, she said. Despite the odd questions, the gifts were kept as a surprise.
“The little ones didn’t really question it, but the older ones were like ‘Why are you making me take my shoes off?’” said Amendola, laughing. “The kids just think they’re invited to a party, and then they’ll get the bags.”
Organizers stayed late multiple days to prepare the gifts. The night before the event, they stayed until 7:30 p.m. to finalize the weeks of work.
As students came up one by one to receive their bags, the group’s diversity showed. The youngest students were no bigger than the bags they hauled back to their seats on the floor. But they all had at least one thing in common — they were attending school despite at-home challenges.
“It’s very persistent,” said Brian Marques, director of opportunity youth for Boston Public Schools. “It’s a balanced level of students across grade levels who are homeless.”
Not every school gets celebrity donations, but each public school in Boston is given funding for homeless students, the amount of which depends on that school’s need for it, Varano said. Over 7 percent of public school students in the city are homeless, Marques said.
The mission statement of the Edison School is “Everyone belongs. Everyone achieves.” It is the educators’ responsibility to keep in mind students’ situations outside of school, so they can better succeed in school, Varano said.
“These kids come in needing so much more,” Amendola said. “They can be angry. You have different emotions involved.”