A teacher by the name of Turquoise LeJeune Parker helped raise over $100,000 to help the children of Lakewood Elementary School in Durham. She ends nearly every class by letting the students know she loves them, but this time she went above and beyond to prove it. Among other fundraisers, this most recent one raised the most amount of money for the students. Her undertaking was dubbed Mrs. Parker’s Professors Foodraiser, which used the funds she raised to buy, and distribute over 5,200 sacks full of food to students though the Durham Public School area.
In the dozen schools this project helps, 98% of the students depend on the minimal-cost or free lunches given by their school. For some children, it is their primary source for meals. However, when the holidays come rolling around, the schools close as do their cafeterias. Presently, the mother of one teaches over 400 students, from kindergarten to 5th grade, and her affection for them goes beyond their homeroom.
“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 much,” Parker said. “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 will also show them all day.”
In about fourteen days, Mrs. Parker’s Professors Foodraisers collected the cash and met the goal to purchase enough food to fill up big grocery bags for thousands of children in the area. Each bag contained accommodating food, such as canned goods, macaroni and cheese, cereal, and more that can be cooked or eaten regardless of the family’s environment.
“This is a community effort. This is not $106,000 out of my pocket, this is the result of us operating as a collective,” Parker said. “It’s because of all the people who gave their time, their money, and their talents to make sure our kids are taken care of.”
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With the assistance of over 60 volunteers who accompanied Parker to the neighborhood Costco, the group bought the food and days organizing and packing the bags before delivering them to each school by December 11, 2021. Parker realized she wanted to be a teacher since she was only 4 years old, sitting on her mother’s bedroom floor, setting up her stuffed bears and imagining they were her students.
“I wanted to be a teacher all my life,” said Parker, who has been teaching for 11 years now. “This is what I love, it’s all I ever wanted to do, I am living my dream.”
She promised to keep all of her student’s fed back in 2015, and she’s kept the promise every year since then. It all started when one of her student’s parents revealed to her that they wouldn’t have a sufficient amount of food for the children to eat throughout the holiday break.
“She told me, ‘I’ll be okay, I can go without eating, but I can’t let my kids go without eating for two weeks.’ It’s really hard to know they have stuff like this going on and not to do everything I can,” Parker said through tears. “My husband and I started thinking, if one family is asking this question, then there must be more.”
On December 14, 2015 Parker sent a message to everyone she knew, inquiring as to whether anyone would be interested in donating money, so she could give sacks loaded with food to last them for the entire holiday break. The beginning was slow and steady. The first year, she raised $500. In 2020 she was able to reach a whopping $55,000. However, in 2021 the impressive record was shattered once again, with more than $106,000 donated from people all over the country.
“It has left me speechless. I’ve cried about it a little every day,” Parker said. “It took off in a way we could have never expected.”