A Breakfast for the Community
Tom Mullane’s life came full circle on Dec. 16, 2010. Formerly a social studies teacher at West Essex High School in North Caldwell, N.J., Mullane now walked through the high school’s doors as a senior citizen, and into the high school’s cafeteria alongside other senior citizens bedecked in festive red for the holidays.
Mullane, however, is not like the rest of them. This is not his first time at West Essex’s Annual Senior Citizen Breakfast. In fact, he was at the very first one when he started the tradition in 1974.
“It’s been improved considerably and constantly,” Mullane said of the breakfast, 36 years after it began.
Mullane started the tradition of a holiday breakfast when his students expressed a desire to visit senior citizen homes. Mullane, who realized the complications of sending students off campus, decided to bring the elderly to the school instead. The breakfast started as a small affair in the school’s library with cupcakes, but since has exploded into a collaborative effort that unites teachers and students, youth and the elderly and the community as a whole.
“The community of senior citizens in the sending areas are so appreciative of events like this,” said Culinary Arts teacher Caren Maw, the current organizer of the breakfast.
The influx of senior citizens came from West Essex’s sending districts of North Caldwell, Roseland, Fairfield, Essex Fells, as well as from other surrounding towns and senior citizen organizations.
Maw led her cooking classes in the week leading up to the breakfast to prepare food for the senior citizens. They prepared a breakfast bake and assorted muffins.
“You have to work a table as a team,” Maw said, as she directed her students how to prepare a plate for the visitors.
The cafeteria was decorated with ornaments and a holiday mural created by the high school’s art classes. Flower arrangements adorned each table.
Senior citizen Blanch Beisler has a special connection to West Essex.
“My daughter Nancy was in the first graduating class,” she said.
Beisler looked forward to the band, orchestra and choral concert that was to follow the breakfast. Her son used to be involved in the school’s marching band, and she noted how wonderful it always was for him.
The chorus entered the cafeteria to perform a few holiday songs while the seniors enjoyed their breakfast, and the school’s dance team performed a dance piece garnishing much applause from the appreciative audience. As the chorus performed, one elderly woman mouthed the words and a grandfather proudly pointed out his granddaughter in the chorus line.
“I love this. I think it’s so sweet,” said senior Deanna Martino, who helped serve at the breakfast. “They’re all enjoying themselves.”
“I’d come back every year,” said the first principal at West Essex, Dr. Joe Piel, who was also in attendence.
When asked is anything has changed since he used to be an administrator, he joked, “The kids are younger.”
When the time came, students and senior citizens climbed out of their seats alongside current and former teachers to enter the auditorium for the concert. The community moved together and good spirits were abound.