The 34-year-old library teacher at Lakewood Elementary School in Durham, North Carolina is doing her best to prove it, and her recent fundraiser, which raised $106,000 to feed her students in need, is her latest act of love.
Winter break could mean weeks of food insecurity for children and their families, Durham Public Schools spokeswoman Crystal Roberts told CNN.
“This is a basic human right. We’re not talking about raising money to buy people vacations; it’s food, a very, very simple thing,” Parker said. “We need to make sure we take care of our schools, because when we take care of our schools, we take care of our community.”
Her initiative, which she called “Professor Mrs. Parker Foodraiser,” used the money she raised to buy, pack and distribute more than 5,200 food bags to students in 12 Durham County schools.
In the dozen schools supported by the project, 98% of students rely on low-cost or free lunches provided by their school. For many children, this is the main source of food. But as soon as the holidays come, schools close, as do their canteens.
“Mrs. Parker has always had an army of donors and volunteers at the ready to advocate for the needs of her students,” Lakewood Elementary School Principal James Hopkins said in a statement to CNN. “What is particularly impressive is that these efforts have brought the same fortune to students all over Durham; in this case, they received a significant portion of food during an extended vacation.
“I need them to know that I love them”
Parker knew she wanted to be a teacher when she was 4, she sat on the floor in her mother’s bedroom, arranging her teddy bears and pretending they were her students.
“I wanted to be a teacher all my life,” said Parker, who has been a teacher for 11 years. “This is what I love, this is all I ever wanted to do, I’m living my dream.”
Now the mother of one teaches over 400 students, from kindergarten to fifth grade, and her love for them goes beyond the classroom.
“I call my students Professors Mrs. Parker. If that tells you anything, it’s that I believe in them and love them very 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 I will also show them all day.”
Her promise to feed all her students began in 2015 when one of her student’s parents confessed to her that they wouldn’t have enough food for the kids during the holidays.
“She told me, ‘I’ll be fine, I can go without food, but I can’t leave my kids without food for two weeks.’ It’s very hard to know that these things happen to them and not do everything in my power,” Parker said through tears. “My husband and I began to think that if one family is asking this question, then there should be more of them.”
On December 14, 2015, Parker sent out text messages to everyone she knew, asking if anyone was interested in donating money so she could provide bags of food for the entire vacation.
Progress has been slow but steady. She raised $500 in her first year. Last year it reached $55,000. But this year turned out to be a record year, with people from all over the country donating more than $106,000.
“It left me speechless. I cried a little every day,” Parker said. “It all started in a way we never expected.”
The effort of a lifetime
Within two weeks, Ms. Parker’s Professors Foodraisers raised the money needed to buy food in large brown bags for thousands of the county’s children.
Each package contained food for children, such as cereal, canned food, muesli bars, macaroni and cheese, which can be prepared regardless of the family’s living conditions.
“This is a community effort. It’s not $106,000 out of my pocket, it’s the result of our teamwork,” said Parker. “It’s because of all the people who gave their time, their money, their talents to make sure our children are taken care of.”
With the help of more than 60 volunteers who escorted Parker to the local Costco, the group stocked up on groceries and spent several days packing bags before delivering them to each school by Dec. 11.
“Mrs. Parker is the school district’s dream teacher, a perfect combination of competence and compassion, who is committed to serving youth in a comprehensive manner,” Durham Public Schools said in a statement.
“Her Foodraiser addresses food insecurity, especially at a time of year when commercialization puts need first,” the statement said. “Thanks to her efforts, our food insecure students have access to livelihoods when schools are closed for the holidays. She is their lifeline.”
The success of the fundraiser inspired Parker to make it a lifelong project, she said, with the goal of feeding as many children as possible during both winter and spring break.