Ted. has given more than $250,000 in grants

By Kaitlin Servant
Citizen Chronicle Writer
editor@thecitizenchronicle.com

STURBRIDGE – On Friday February 2, more than 200 guests are expected to attend Tastefully Ted. at the Publick House in Sturbridge to raise funds for the Tantasqua Education Fund (Ted.).

Laurie Placella, a teacher at Burgess Elementary and President of Ted. describes the event as precursor to Valentine’s Day and “a casual, social event where parents and teachers can mingle while enjoying small tastings of area restaurant appetizers and desserts.”

In recent years, the event has raised $7,000-$8,000 to go towards educational grants that are given out to Union 61 schools.

Jeffrey Zahr, Vice President of Ted., believes the event is so popular because it’s local, social and fun.

“It’s a great night out, right before Valentine’s Day but after the holiday rush,” Zahr said. “It’s in town and not a heavy commitment. You’re giving to a good cause and getting to be with friends.”

Audra Strause, a parent of two Burgess Elementary School students, attends the event every year.

“We look forward to it. It’s always a fun night and we get to support Tantasqua and  Union 61,” Strause said. “It doesn’t hurt that the food is so delicious!”

Placella is in her fourth and final year as President of the foundation, but she became hooked on being part of the organization while attending her first fundraiser.

“I was amazed at the community support and intrigued with the grants that were awarded,” Placella said. “My children were part of the school district and I knew I wanted them to benefit from these extraordinary learning opportunities.”

Zahr has been part of Ted. since it’s inception in 2007.

“I attended the very first brunch fundraiser and have been involved one way or another ever since,” he said.

Zahr joined the board and served as Chairman of the Events Committee in 2013 and took on the additional role of Vice President in 2015. He says “the essence of everything we do is to give our students an extraordinary experience.”

To accomplish that mission, and at the heart of what Ted. does, are the grants it gives out to Union 61 district classrooms and schools. Zahr spoke about grants that provided resources and technology to classrooms that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. For example, GPS devices to allow students to participate in Geocaching throughout the community and a WeatherBug station at the high school. “These things go way beyond what the classroom could do by itself without extra funding.”

One of Placella’s personal favorites is last year’s Chestnut Tree Project.

“Fifty chestnut trees have been planted at the Junior High and this year the orchard will be completed by planting another one hundred and fifty trees,” Placella explained. “The trees are unique in that they are a combination of blight resistant and native Massachusetts genes, developed by The American Chestnut Foundation. They will become the first regionally adapted American Chestnut trees for the state and the surrounding northern region.”

This particular project involved over 300 students and collaboration between seventh grade science, technology, art and health teachers.

Raising money to fund the grants is an ongoing year round effort and requires a lot of support from the community. Events like Tastefully Ted. are important to help raise funds and awareness.

“Our Events Committee is continuously working to improve the event by offering additional restaurant options and spectacular silent auction packages,” Placella said.

The foundation puts on several other fundraisers throughout the year and also provides grant writing workshops to assist teachers in applying for grants. Since inception, more than $250,000 has been given out in grants.

“We can’t do any of this without volunteers. We don’t always need heavy lifters to take over and run things but we are always in need of people to help at the events or with planning events,” Zahr said.

Placella added, “Recruiting members is a challenge in our busy world, but committee members are asked to make it work for them and their schedule.”

Zahr hopes this weekend’s event will be as enjoyable as it always is, but also that it will continue to raise awareness of Ted. and what the foundation is trying to accomplish.

“This is a community effort and we really need the whole community, from parents, teachers, former students and local business owners to make it work and carry it into the future,” he said.

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