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“Hazel Has Heart” Celebrates New Greenhouse, Food Pantry, and Outdoor Classroom

WEST ORANGE, NJ – The Hazel Elementary School community is flourishing: Principal Joel Castillo and staff are engaging students, the PTA and related committees are busily working on restoration, repairs, and new projects, and the feeling of family filled the air at the June 1 “Hazel Has Heart” event.

Under sunny skies, Hazel's parents held “Hazel Has Heart” to give back to their community and celebrate a new greenhouse, food pantry, and outdoor classroom. The flowers and vegetables were growing, the newly restored outdoor classroom was stunning, and the ribbon was cut on the soon-to-be-greenhouse, expected to be completed by the start of school in September.

Commissioner-at-Large Brendan Gill, Assemblywoman Alixon Collazos-Gill, West Orange Mayor Susan McCartney, and Superintendent Hayden Moore joined Principal Castillo and PTA organizers for the ribbon cutting. Commissioner Gill presented a proclamation to the school on behalf of the Essex County Board of Commissioners.

Art projects lined the pathway to the outdoor classroom. Coffee and pastries were donated by Harper’s Café and Supreme Bakery, crafts from Mobile Makers were available for the children, and coats and non-perishable food were collected. Library Media Specialist Joyce Soto read to children in the outdoor classroom, and a DJ entertained. To support the initiatives, plants and crafts were available for sale, along with dedication bricks that will reside in the garden for years to come.

Once completed, the greenhouse will grow vegetables to stock the recently opened pantry and will serve as a gathering space for art and STEM classes. Pantry items will be distributed to Hazel families, filling a need at the Title I school. The newly completed outdoor classroom will allow students to be in nature during the school day as they read, learn and develop.

The Hazel Avenue Elementary PTA is comprised of a group of volunteer parents, teachers, and administrators. They approved funds to move forward with the projects in keeping with their aim of promoting sustainability, nutrition, and mental health among its students and their families.


Hazel Has Heart

(Front L-R) Superintendent Hayden Moore, Allegra Baldwin, Jamie Hardy. (Rear L-R) Mayor Susan McCartney, Principal Joel Castillo, Porl Gordon, Kiara Lo, Jill Beretay, Krista Punsalan, Assemblywoman Collaxos-Gill, Commissioner Gill, Olivia Betances

Hazel Has Heart

Principal Castillo with Porl Gordon, Fifth grade parent who renovated the outdoor classroom

Hazel Has Heart

Principal Castillo cuts the ribbon with students, Commissioner Gill, and Superintendent Hayden Moore




Cynthia Cumming
June 4, 2024