Durham teacher racks up $100,000 Costco bill to ensure students don't go hungry over holidays

Joel Brown Image
Thursday, December 16, 2021
Durham teacher raises more than $100,000 in foodraiser for students
Ten days before Christmas and Turquoise LeJeune Parker, a Lakewood Elementary School teacher, just pulled off her biggest foodraiser yet for her neediest students: $106,000.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Ten days before Christmas and Turquoise LeJeune Parker maybe the happiest elf in Durham. The Lakewood Elementary School teacher just pulled off her biggest foodraiser yet for her neediest students: $106,000.

"Amazing, speechless. It leaves me speechless," said Parker. "I've cried a little bit today. I cry a little bit every day."

They are tears of joy. Parker and her ever-growing list of donors and community partners donated over six figures for this year's foodraiser. Parker and her small army of volunteers took the cash to the Costco on North Pointe Drive to buy non-perishable groceries for over 5,100 students from a dozen Durham Public School area schools whose families could go hungry over the holiday break.

"Two weeks is a long time to be out of school without lunch or breakfast at school. Three meals. Children eat a lot. Food is expensive," Parker said.

Food insecurity a major concern in Durham, especially for low-income people of color. ABC 11 has been tracking it with Our America Equity Report by ABC-owned stations. Nearly three quarters of Black and Latino Durhamites do not have access to nearby supermarkets (within walking distance) -- 25% more than white Durham residents.

Of the 12 schools where students are getting bag loads of holiday groceries, 98% of them receive free or reduced lunch at school. For many, schools provide their only meals.

"I want to say it's about 5,106 children," Parker said.

This year's foodraiser, with $106,000 haul, is the biggest one yet. Of course, that was also the case three years ago.

"In 2018 when we did $7,000 for the first time, we fed the whole school," said Parker. "That really hit a lot of people differently because they were able to see that there is a need."

For the past several days, Parker and the volunteers have been bagging the groceries and sending them home two grade levels at a time. This year, there was even food to send bags home for school support staff -- the bus drivers and cafeteria workers whose families could also use the help this holiday.