Mac 'N Cheese Wars Bring Comfort Food to Local Families (via Tap Into West Essex)

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Mac 'n Cheese Wards

Washington School 5th graders stack up nearly 4,000 boxes of mac 'n cheese on June 9, surrounding (second from left) physical education teacher S. Zeman, principal B. Adams, Caldwell Director of Human Services Maria Burak and art teacher K. Kaufman. Credits: Christine Corliss

Mac 'N Cheese Wars Bring Comfort Food to Local Families

Christine Corliss

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 • 8:16am

What happens when more than 350 students from Washington Elementary School are challenged with a macaroni and cheese competition to benefit the local food pantry? They donate more than 3,650 boxes of macaroni and cheese! The competition started as a simple challenge; which class at Washington Elementary School could accumulate the most boxes of macaroni and cheese for four weeks in May and June? Coordinated by the West Caldwell School’s physical education teacher Sheila Zeman and art teacher Krystyn Kaufman, the Mac and Cheese Wars challenged students to do good by donating a box or two of a favorite childhood food – macaroni and cheese, which would be donated to the Caldwell Food Pantry. Students brought in boxes, packages, even cartons of macaroni and cheese, keeping count of their donations on paper thermometers hung on the wall of the school’s gym. The thermometer tallies quickly rose as students continued to bring in boxes each week.

“The teachers were looking for a fun way to inspire students to be aware of those in need, and to reach out to help them,” said Washington School principal Barbara Adams. “They were happily surprised by how the students and parents of Washington School embraced this campaign and made it a huge success."

And a huge success it was, as box after box arrived at the school. As the last week of the contest approached, the number of donations continued to rise as students reported to parents about the current tallies and which classroom was in the lead.

“The competition was not only a way to keep the food pantry stocked with a staple for the summer, but it showed the students how easy it really is to remember to help others,” said Zeman.

“This really is fantastic,” said Maria Burak, director of Human Services for the Borough of Caldwell. “Add some ground meat or tuna fish and you have a complete meal. I don’t think I have ever seen anything like this.”

To make sure that everyone would see exactly how much macaroni and cheese was collected, 67 fifth grade students worked with Kaufman and Zeman to “bury” Burak in macaroni and cheese, and then create and Op Art sculpture, stacking the different colored boxes in an artistic formation.

After counting the 3,650 boxes, the class that donated the most number of boxes celebrated their generosity and competitive spirit by watching a movie and snacking on ice pops during one of the last days of the school year.

Added Adams, “This fun event had a very serious purpose: to ensure that there would be enough macaroni and cheese available all summer long, for any hungry family who needed some.”

So, where is all of the macaroni and cheese?

“We have a lot of it at the food bank,” said Burak. “However, we did ask if we can get it a few cartons at a time. I don’t know if we can fit it all! This was really amazing.”

For more information on how to help the Caldwell Food Pantry or to make a local donation, contact Maria Burak at the center at 1 Provost Square, Caldwell, or call 973-403-4623.  For more information on Washington Elementary School, visit

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