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Nov 7, 2017 4:03 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

District Honors Westhampton Beach Senior For Dedication To Homeless

Westhampton Beach Senior Jackson Parli unpacking food at Maureen's Haven on Friday afternoon.  DANA SHAW
Nov 8, 2017 9:39 AM

When the bell rings at 2:16 p.m. each Friday at Westhampton Beach High School, students stream out the front doors, chatting animatedly and eager for the freedom of the weekend—all except for one.Jackson Parli, a 17-year-old senior from East Quogue, detaches himself from the excited throng and makes his way to the school cafeteria, a path he has taken every Friday since his sophomore year. There, he greets Naim Walcott, the director of food services, who has neatly wrapped up a week’s worth of unsold and uneaten food culled from the cafeterias of the district’s elementary, middle and high schools.

As part of the “Rock and Wrap It Up” project—an initiative started by human rights activist Syd Mandelbaum in 1990 in which volunteers collect uneaten food sold at concert venues, sporting events and schools, donating them to local shelters and pantries—Jackson collects the uneaten items, carries them to his car and then makes the roughly 15-minute ride to Maureen’s Haven in Riverhead.

Once there, he is joined by Maryann Gensler, executive director of Maureen’s Haven, which offers housing and nutrition to the East End’s homeless population. And with the help of staff, they unload the week’s offerings and stash them in an industrial refrigerator and freezer.

Over the past three years, Jackson has transported more than 5,000 pounds of food to the Riverhead shelter, according to Maureen’s Haven’s records.

And at Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, Jackson was recognized for his philanthropic efforts.

“There are families who are eating because of you, children who are eating because of you,” Westhampton Beach High School Principal Dr. Christopher Herr said at the meeting. “There are tables that are full because of the work that you do.”

Mr. Walcott chimed in as well. “He is an incredibly dedicated person with a heart for his community,” he said. “This wouldn’t happen without him.”

In an interview this week, Jackson explained that he took over the duty after his friend, Lauren Bauer, graduated from the high school three years earlier. In the early days, he noted, his mother, Alexis, would have to drive him and his donated cornucopia to the shelter in Riverhead.

He also reflected on his encounters with those who are benefiting from his work, several of whom he’s become friendly with over the years. Craig, who loves the AMC show “The Walking Dead,” is a particular favorite.

“Every time I go in he tells me I should be on the show, and he is convinced that he would be a better Daryl [Dixon] than the actor who plays him,” said Jackson, referring to one of the show’s leads.

Ms. Gensler notes that Jackson’s authenticity and full emotional investment in the job sets him apart from other volunteers. “We get a lot of young people in here who are looking to pad their resumes,” she said on Tuesday. “It is clear to me that Jackson is truly compassionate and wants to do good.”

As he looks to plot his future, applying to a slew of colleges, Jackson said he is determined to keep the initiative going wherever he ends up landing. “Everyone has been so nice to me—just really kind and compassionate people,” he said. “I’m going to find a way to bring ‘Rock and Wrap It Up’ with me.”

His pending departure—Jackson is on schedule to graduate in June—won’t signal the end of the program in Westhampton Beach, however. He’s already teaching his 11-year-old brother, Bennett, who will be entering the middle school next year, the ropes of the job.

“The program will be in good hands,” Jackson said.

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