McKinley School, in North Bergen, New Jersey, worked all February on their “Read Across America” campaign, which included a social media blitz and a number of YouTube videos. The school put in a good effort to get talk show celebrity Ellen DeGeneres to contribute to the campaign by reading aloud on video.
Unfortunately, DeGeneres declined to visit the school and participate. But she didn’t simply ignore their pleas—far from it.
In April, two McKinley teachers were flown from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be on the Ellen Show. During the April 20th taping, DeGeneres announced she had a surprise, and brought the teachers on stage. Joined by a livestream of their entire student body on the big screen, she announced that she had arranged a $25,000 donation from Walmart and the charity Feeding America.
Though the students only asked her to participate in their literary event, DeGeneres did enough research into the school to learn that many students struggled with food insecurity. According to a report by a NJ children’s advocacy group, approximately two-thirds of all students in North Bergen are eligible for subsidized lunch and breakfast, but fewer than a third of those students take those benefits. The generous donation will help ensure that even students who don’t receive assistance will get breakfast every morning.
In New Jersey, more than half a million students live in low-income households, qualifying for at-school free or reduced-price meals. In recent years, a number of new bills and measures have expanded the programs offered to them, following a series of studies in 2011 that indicated that eating breakfast regularly was linked to higher attendance and graduation rates. Since implementing the new programs, New Jersey has seen their graduation rate for low-income students climb from 71 to 82 percent, a very impressive rise.