Scotch Plains Teen Leads Community Service Effort

Jessica Clarke of Scotch Plains (center) is joined by her mother, Rev. Sheelagh Clarke and classmate Skyla Choi of Fort Lee at the soup kitchen. (Photo courtesy of Wardlaw-Hartridge School)

SCOTCH PLAINS — Sunday is usually about relaxing and getting ready for the week ahead for most students, but for Jessica Clarke of Scotch Plains, a senior at The Wardlaw-Hartridge School in Edison, it is about serving others.

Clarke spends the first Sunday of every month organizing “Sunday Sandwiches” at St. John’s Episcopal Church in downtown Elizabeth. It is important to her that she provides a variety of options so that those who come on Sunday have a say in what they would like to eat. Clarke reaches out to a number of local businesses and gets everything she needs from dozens of eggs to crates of fresh fruit donated. Every sandwich is made to order and on some Sundays that can be over 140 sandwiches made fresh.

“I first learned about Jessie’s heart for serving others this past summer when we were discussing weekend plans on the way home from cheerleading camp,” said Tanda Tucker, Middle School art teacher and varsity cheerleading coach. “While I was heading down to the beach for some summer fun, Jessie shared she would be collecting loaves of bread and jars of peanut butter for her soup kitchen. I asked Jessie if she needed anything for her Sunday Sandwiches and her reply was that she would love to have more hands helping so she could get to know the people she is helping.”

This past Sunday, a few of her cheerleading teammates and Tucker volunteered to be those helping hands. Senior captains Skyla Choi of Fort Lee and Aneesa Sonawalla of Edison met at Clarke’s house ahead of time to help make tuna salad, slice tomatoes and load the cars. Junior teammates Nick Davis of Union and Billy Nolan of Colonia joined the group in Elizabeth. After all of the unloading and setting up was finished they helped to serve over 60 people.

“I thought it was great. I loved helping those people. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I plan on going back as many times as possible,” Davis said.

Choi shared that, “ Yesterday’s experience helping Jessie with her Soup Kitchen was a lot of fun and I think that it was a great opportunity to give back to those who are less fortunate that us. I know Jessie was really excited to have some more help, and I was glad to give her a helping hand. I think this Soup Kitchen is a great way to give back to the community, and it is important for the Wardlaw-Hartridge student body to see that there are those who are less fortunate than us. I was happy to give Jessie as much help as I could, because I know this Soup Kitchen is really important to her, and I was eager to put a smile on other’s faces because after all, that’s what cheerleaders do.”

Clarke said it was amazing having the support of her fellow cheerleaders this week.

“The transformation from a small organization comprised of a few of my closest friends to serving over 140 sandwiches to over 60 people is unbelievable,” Clarke said. “Having the support of the cheerleading team this week was amazing as well and I am excited to see the future growth of Sunday Sandwiches.”

“What Jessie is doing for others is remarkable. I hope that her example will encourage her teammates and others to lend a helping hand when they can,” Tucker said.

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