EDDYSTONE — When Saint James High School  closed its doors for good in 1993, the school Varsity Club’s annual Thanksgiving food drive also appeared to be coming to an end.

The very next Thanksgiving, a group of alumni came to the rescue by banding together to carry on the tradition. They call themselves “Varsity Club II” and for 26 years, alumni have gathered at the St. James Doghouse, 1499 E. Ninth St. in Eddystone, to carry on the Bulldog tradition of generously helping those in need have a brighter Thanksgiving Day.

This year was no different. Last Wednesday and Thursday, alumni braved the cold weather to collect turkeys and monetary donations, surpassing their goal of supplying 900 turkeys to individuals, families and organizations in need when they collected almost 1,000 turkeys. Whatever turkeys the team lacks in donations in any given year to reach their targeted number during the two-day drive, they usually receive enough monetary donations to go out and purchase the balance. Last year, the group collected and distributed 787 turkeys.

In addition to meeting the needs of some less-fortunate individuals in local parishes and veterans organizations, the men supply turkeys to mostly every needs-based organization in Delaware County, from the Community Action Agency and the Bernadine Center, to Catholic Social Services, Devereux Community Services and Chester Eastside Ministries. They also provide turkeys to the State FOP Lodge and to the elderly and infirm Religious Sisters at Assisi House in Aston and Camilla Hall on the grounds of Immaculata University. All in all, 36 organizations will receive turkeys, including a few in Chester County and over the state line in Delaware.

The collection site is a team effort among the spirited alumni. About 20-30 alumni worked on the turkey drive for both days. As cars pulled up with donations, the men relayed the birds into trucks to keep them cold for delivery and pick-up prior to Turkey Day on Nov. 28. Alumnus Bill Vail, dressed as a pilgrim, added to the Thanksgiving ambiance of the occasion and drew smiles from donors and recipients alike.

The men were given a helping hand this year from some students of St. James Regional Catholic School in Ridley Park, who, accompanied by Principal Loren Loomis, spent some time at the Doghouse on Thursday, giving a hand with taking the heavy turkeys from donors and packing them into trucks for the journey to their destinations.

“Demand this year is up,” shared Jack Donlevie of Devon, chairman of the annual drive. “Due to the generosity of our members and their families and friends, we thankfully have been able to satisfy all requests.”

The St. James Alumni has 1,700 dues- paying active members. The school, located in Chester, was in existence from 1940-1993.

In addition to the seasonal turkey drive, the St. James Varsity Club II will hold its annual clothing and toy drive from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12. People can drop off new, unwrapped toys and clothing all day at the Doghouse in Eddystone on both days. Tax-deductible monetary donations to purchase toys and clothing can be made anytime.

Last year, the alumni collected and distributed over $15,000 worth of toys and clothing. Donations will be distributed to organizations serving children in need, as well as patients at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and A.I. DuPont Children’s Hospital in Wilmington.

The alumni will also host their semi-annual Blood Drive, 1:30-6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 16. Food will be available for all donors. People should make an appointment by calling 800-RED-CROSS or visiting redcross.org and using the code “Bulldogs.”

"At St. James we were taught early on that we have a moral obligation to help the less fortunate in our communities,” explained Michael Ritz, president of the alumni association. “That mission was made possible through our Varsity Club Program implemented in the early days of St. James. Today, that same program is carried on through its alumni association. This year, through the generosity of its members, their families and friends, the alumni association provided 994 Thanksgiving dinners, making this holiday enjoyable for those in need. Next month, on the 11th and 12th, of December, we will do the same for our annual Toy and Clothing Drive."

For more information, to donate, or to give a hand during the toy and clothing drive, call 610- 876-2006 or email stjdoghouse@comcast.net.

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