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‘Really a superhero’: Durham teacher rings up $100,000 bill at Costco for students

Teacher Turquoise Parker raised over $106,000 this year to distribute bags of food for Durham Public School students for the holiday break.

Teacher Turquoise Parker raised over $106,000 this year to distribute bags of food for Durham Public School students for the holiday break.

Turquoise Parker

One N.C. Central University alumna is living by her school’s motto in “truth and service.”

Turquoise LeJeune Parker was the flag girl captain of the NCCU band before graduating in 2010. As a student leader, she would send out marching band orders to the 200 members through group text messages that quickly became known as “turq alerts.”

But seven years ago when when she first began teaching in Durham, the mother of one of her students shared how difficult it would be to put food on the table during the two-week holiday break. Parker sent a “turq alert” to everyone in her phone asking for food donations three days before the students went on vacation.

“I was at Eastway Elementary and everyone I texted came to the school I taught at at the time, and we made bags for everyone in my class,” Parker said.

“Before that I taught in Chapel Hill and I texted some of my old parents for gifts. And that year, we were able to send every child in my class home with a bag of food and one present,” she said.

Now, the Lakewood Elementary School teacher has raised $106,000 for food donations for students at 12 Durham schools. Of the 12 schools where 5,106 students are getting groceries, 98% of them receive free or reduced lunch at school.

“We go onto the Durham Public Schools website, and get numbers on the schools that have the highest percentages of students with free and reduced lunch,” Parker said of how she decided where to donate.

T Greg. Doucette, an NCCU graduate and Durham lawyer who received his first “turq alert” in 2015, said the effort just continued to grow and became more organized.

Each bag of food costs about $20 and weighs in at an average 12 pounds 7 ounces, he said. All of the donation come in through Twitter.

“So the second year and third we started fundraising a week before, but then I noticed people always wait to donate until the last day,” Doucette said. “So starting in year four, I said let’s just do a day and whatever we get is what we will run with.”

The foodraiser has set a new record every year since 2019, raising 14,184 . In 2020, Parker and volunteers raised $53,000.

Once the money is raised, the foodraiser team heads to Costco on North Pointe Drive to buy the holiday groceries. Each bag includes a loaf of bread, canned goods and snacks.

“This year we raised an increase by like 40 or 50%,” Doucette said. “We wouldn’t have been able to pull off what we did this year last year.”

In 2020, the foodraiser had to suddenly switch stores after another discount store canceled their order.

After showing up with volunteers and no groceries to pack, they headed to the Costco, purchasing “every jar of Jiff peanut butter in the store,” Doucette said.

With current supply chain issues, Doucette coordinated with the Costco a month in advance this year and spent $103,000 before taxes and brown papers bags.

Parker and volunteers have since bagged the groceries and distributed the items to students before going on their holiday break. And she still can’t believe how much the program has grown.

“It’s unbelievable that we have been able to get to this point. But I am just so thankful to know that I can help my babies [students] in some way and their parents worry a little less,” she said.

Some of the parents describe Parker’s as dynamic and her efforts as heroic.

“She was my daughter’s second-grade teacher and is really a superhero. And we have used the [food] bags in the past and it has been very helpful to us,” said Shanaaya Foster, who has an 11-year-old daughter at Lakeview.

“We are not a family in needs of the food, but we pay the food forward as well,” said Rhon Manigault- Bryant, another parent. “She has been a fantastic teacher and mentor for my son, and its because she does such a great job at grounding everyone at the school,” said Bryant. “She’s so connected to the community.”

The Durham Report

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