'It's a basic human right. We're not talking about raising money to buy people a vacation; this is food, a very, very basic thing,' she said.
Turquoise LeJeune Parker knew she wanted to be a teacher since she was four years old. "I wanted to be a teacher all my life," Parker told CNN. "This is what I love, it's all I ever wanted to do, I am living my dream." The mother-of-one now teaches over 400 students—from kindergarten to fifth grade—at Lakewood Elementary School in Durham, North Carolina, and her love for the children goes far beyond the classroom. Parker goes out of her way to care for the young ones under her care and her recent fundraiser, which raised a whopping $106,000 to make sure no child in the Durham Public Schools district goes hungry during their two-week winter break, is the biggest proof.
5,061 bags went home this past week. Thanks to a VERY HUGE TEAM of absolutely beautiful people, b/c I don’t do this by myself, the last bags of groceries have just been delivered. The very last bag went to the doorstep of one of my kinder Professors and a 5th grade Professor ❤️ pic.twitter.com/hAdQip8JCn— Mrs. Turquoise LeJeune Parker (@PrkrsProfessors) December 22, 2021
"I call my students Mrs. Parker's professors. If that tells you anything, it's that I believe in them and I love them so very much," Parker said. "I need them to know that I love them, to remind them that love is an action word. I will tell them all day, but I will also show them all day." The 34-year-old library teacher started the "Mrs. Parker's Professors Foodraiser" in 2015 when one of her student's parents confided in her that they wouldn't have enough food for the children to eat through the holiday break. "She told me, 'I'll be okay, I can go without eating, but I can't let my kids go without eating for two weeks.' It's really hard to know they have stuff like this going on and not to do everything I can," Parker reportedly said through tears. "My husband and I started thinking, if one family is asking this question, then there must be more."
Turquoise LeJeune Parker, a Lakewood Elementary School teacher, may be the happiest elf in Durham, North Carolina, as she raised more than $106,000 in her most successful fundraiser yet for needy students.— WOWT 6 News (@WOWT6News) December 20, 2021
On December 14, 2015, Parker sent a text to "pretty much every contact" in her phone, she told TODAY. "I need to feed my kids for winter break," she wrote. "Can you donate granola bars? Cans of soup? Anything to make sure they won’t go hungry. Please help if you can." Within three days, she had collected enough food to feed every child in her classroom through the two-week school break. "One kid, I'll never forget, he was so excited to get a GoGo Squeez applesauce pouch," she recalled. "He said, 'Only rich people get these! Do you know how expensive they are?' Ever since then, I always get them the GoGo Squeez. That's a non-negotiable."
Turquoise LeJeune Parker and volunteers packing bags of food to deliver to students in her school district | Photo Courtesy: Turquoise LeJeune Parker https://t.co/jDTE8RjEKS— IG: PlatinumVoicePR (@PLATINUMVOICEPR) December 22, 2021
"I was just so happy and grateful knowing that they would be OK and comfortable over the break," Parker explained. "But I still wanted to do more." The foodraiser has since grown exponentially with the help of local attorney T. Greg Doucette, who was on the group text that Parker sent in 2015. This year, Doucette was in charge of the fundraising and orchestrated a massive Costco haul to purchase enough food for the 5103 students at 12 schools throughout the Durham Public Schools district. Meanwhile, Parker coordinated volunteers and made sure every family has what they needed. "It's been awesome for me to kind of ride shotgun on this with her and see what it’s become," said Doucette.
According to Durham Public Schools spokeswoman Crystal Roberts, winter break can mean weeks of food insecurity for children and their families. Ninety-eight percent of the students from the dozen schools the project helps rely on the low-cost or free lunches provided by their school and for many of them, the school meals are their main source for food. "Mrs. Parker has always had an army of donors and volunteers at the ready, to champion the needs of her students," said Lakewood Elementary School Principal James Hopkins in a statement. "What's so impressive is that these efforts have provided students across Durham the same fortune; in this case, of receiving a substantial portion of food over the extended holiday break."
#Durham teacher Turquoise Lejeune Parker spent $103,079 at @Costco where she bought groceries to help feed more than 5,000 students through the holiday break.— Crystal Price (@CrystalWNCN) December 16, 2021
She says this wouldn’t be possible without the help of dozens of volunteers. @WNCNhttps://t.co/74pOw4GDt8 pic.twitter.com/6OtSpeWrtQ
"It's a basic human right. We're not talking about raising money to buy people a vacation; this is food, a very, very basic thing," Parker said. "We need to make sure we take care of our schools, because when we take care of our schools, we're taking care of our community." Each bag of food distributed through the initiative contained kid-friendly food, such as cereal, canned goods, granola bars and macaroni and cheese that can be cooked regardless of a family's living situation. "This is a community effort. This is not $106,000 out of my pocket, this is the result of us operating as a collective," Parker said. "It's because of all the people who gave their time, their money, their talents to make sure our kids are taken care of. It has left me speechless. I've cried about it a little every day. It took off in a way we could have never expected."