Low-income children in the small Pennsylvania town of Johnstown have food in their bellies during the COVID-19 pandemic thanks in large part to Donna LaMonaca.
LaMonaca, a TSA supervisory officer at Johnstown-Cambria County Airport, is on a mission to prevent kids in her community from going hungry during this challenging time.
When COVID-19 forced schools to close, the local school system donated its surplus of milk to a community food pantry so the milk could be distributed before it expired. That’s when LaMonaca stepped in.
“I received a call from the local food pantry because they could not distribute all of the extra milk they had been gifted,” said LaMonaca. “We decided to suit up in masks and gloves and take the milk to where there would be a lot of kids in need. We went to a low-income housing unit. Hundreds of little cartons of milk were gone within a half-hour.”
A few days later, LaMonaca, who has been with TSA for 18 years, was serving lunch at the St. Vincent DePaul Family “Soup” Kitchen when a young boy asked for several meals to go. “We loaded him up, and he attached [the meals] to his bicycle and rode off,” LaMonaca said.
When the boy came back the next day, he said he handed out the lunches to his friends. He rode about four miles each way to pick up and deliver the meals, so LaMonaca told him she would meet him the next day at the same place where she distributed the milk cartons. She showed up with 15 prepared meals each day for several days.
She said the crowd of hungry kids sometimes grew to a whopping 100. “I brought whatever I could get my hands on,” LaMonaca said. “We learned that even though the schools were still serving lunch, [many kids] didn’t have a way to get there. Realizing this was the only meal the kids may get every day, we kept doing it.”
On weekends, LaMonaca bought pizzas and Happy Meals and took them to the children. She also asked local businesses to help and convinced one company to supply 50 free meals if she bought 50.
Sometimes, she brought her own children with her. At one point, her 12-year-old son Geno learned that some of the kids weren’t going to get Easter baskets, so he decided to take his own money, which he was planning to spend on an Xbox, and bought candy and made Easter baskets for the less fortunate children.
The LaMonaca family distributed 20 baskets and 50 Easter dinners to people who would not otherwise have had a nice holiday meal.
LaMonaca went even further than that. She asked her friends not to buy her any gifts for her birthday – which was Sunday, May 3 – but instead asked them to consider donating money to buy pizzas to hand out. Her friends came through, donating enough money for 250 personal pizzas for the children.
“We have been serving the community the best we can ever since we got the call about the milk,” LaMonaca said. “Hopefully, when our community opens up after the pandemic eases, community programs will reopen and make sure meals are provided. But for now, we’ll continue to do what we are doing to get the kids fed.”