East Providence teachers help students during the holidays through 'Gingerbread Express' program


EAST PROVIDENCE — Quietly for the last two decades, the East Providence Education Association, the union of city teachers, has been adding a little Christmas cheer to those students and families in most need.

The “Gingerbread Express” has been at full throttle in recent days, as teachers have delivered presents to each of the department’s 11 schools and through its partnership at Bradley Hospital. A total of 226 families were sponsored by the EPEA through the program this year.

“It is fully operated by teachers and staff of East Providence as well as a few community sponsors,” the EPEA’s district coordinator for the event, Jenn Preiss, said.

Mrs. Preiss is an elementary and middle school social working in city.

According to Mrs. Preiss, a child or family is identified as “in need” either by referrals or through existing aid programs offered to them through the school system. Staff and teachers then volunteer to sponsor a child. The basic requirements are at least two articles of clothing and socks as well as a few toys or gifts of the child’s interest. The average cost to sponsor a child is about $75. Each child is given five to nine gifts. The gifts have to come wrapped because some families “can’t even afford or don’t have gift wrap.”

The process begins in early November and all gifts are available for families to pick up the week before Christmas vacation at the schools. Earlier this week, Tuesday, Dec. 17, Mrs. Preiss and EPEA President Val Lawson, a Social Studies teacher at East Providence High School, delivered presents to children at the Oldham and Whiteknact elementary schools.

“New this year, all my fellow social workers volunteered to do all the package pick up and deliveries which was is a huge help,” said Ms. Preiss. “We have to deliver to all the elementary schools and it takes about two full days to gather all packages, make all the runs, etc. So a shout out needs to go to the E.P. Social Workers.”

Ms. Lawson explained the “Gingerbread Express” locally is an extension of the state-wide program, the “Children’s Fund,” run by the National Education Association Rhode Island, the conglomerate of unions throughout the state.

The Gingerbread Express is in its 22nd year of operation. Nearly 2,000 children and families throughout Rhode Island will benefit from the efforts of teachers, school and public employees, student groups and other friends of the fund this holiday season.

“We believe in providing children with a quality education and a quality education experience both inside school and in the home,” said Ms. Lawson, who also noted the support the program receives locally from the School Department administration. “The Gingerbread Express is an extension of that as we try to meet the social and economic needs of the children.”

According to NEARI, the Children’s Fund is financed by money raised through payroll deduction, fundraising events, and direct donations. Valerie Staples coordinates the fund for NEARI and retired member MaryJo Pouliot, from East Providence, serves as its president. The EPEA has taken part in the Gingerbread Express since its inception with thousands of children and families having been helped over the years during the holiday season.

Added Ms. Lawson, “We care about the kids, about the community. Our goal is to support them in every possible aspect of their lives, and this is one way to do it.”


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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.