‘Leadership in action’ goes back to school.

Ursuline students raise hunger awareness with 'The Cereal Effect' annual food drive.

School-wide service project puts breakfast on the table for area families.

Westchester schoolchildren go hungry every day amid pandemic instability and surging food costs. Students at The Ursuline School in New Rochelle are committed to doing something about it.

It’s become part of the back-to-school routine at the independent, all-girls Catholic school with a deep tradition of service that roots back to its founding in 1897. The school motto of “Serviam,” a Latin phrase that means “I will serve,”is something that Ursuline students take personally.

“These are smart, capable girls undeterred by a challenge,” said Principal Theresa Napoli. “They are always looking for ways to be part of the solution.”

Students combat chioldhood hunger

The Ursuline School helps combat childhood hunger with third annual "Cereal Effect." Mrs. Cathy McCarthy, Director of Philanthropy, and Ursuline student leaders (L-R) Riya Buddhavarupu, Erin Marley, Caitlin Marley, Lena Gilardi, and Caralyn LoConte organize donations of breakfast cereal.


In the fall of 2021, a student-led group started a school-wide service project dubbed “The Cereal Effect.” The goal is simple and urgent: to help combat childhood hunger. While breakfast is a vital part of the back-to-school routine, it’s become a luxury that an increasing number of local families cannot afford.

“These are smart, capable girls undeterred by a challenge. They are always looking for ways to be part of the solution.”

- Ms. Theresa Napoli, Principal

Feeding Westchester, a non-profit devoted to hunger relief, reports that the need for food assistance has more than doubled due to the pandemic, citing that two in five households are now at risk of hunger in the county. According to their June 2023 report, neighborhoods in New Rochelle, Mount Vernon, Yonkers and Ossining have the greatest need. Representatives from HOPE Community Services (HOPE), the region's largest emergency Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen – and a familiar service site for Ursuline students – encounter a significant increase in requests for breakfast cereal each September.

“The idea that some families right in our own backyard cannot afford the most important meal of the day doesn’t sit well with our students,” said Ursuline president Dr. Colleen Melnyk. Students are leading the entire school community, including parents, alumnae, alumnae families, faculty, staff and friends, in raising awareness about childhood hunger and gathering donations of breakfast cereal to stock the food pantry at HOPE. “The Cereal Effect shows how Ursuline students embody our commitment to Serviam,” said Dr. Melnyk.

“The idea that some families right in our own backyard cannot afford the most important meal of the day doesn’t sit well with our students.”

- Dr. Colleen Melnyk, President

Community respondes to school-wide call for cereal donations. Students collected more than 2,800 cereal boxes as food insecurity spikes
during the costly back-to-school season.


The project has started a buzz in the broader community, attracting contributions from various community partners, including Saints John & Paul School and Parish in Larchmont, Annunciation-Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Crestwood, The Indian American Cultural Association of Westchester, ACME Markets, and Wykagyl Country Club.

Last September, the goal was to collect 1,250 boxes of cereal, a nod to Ursuline’s 125th academic year. Students surpassed their goal and collected a total of 1,538 boxes for HOPE. This year, the students are determined to collect 2,000 boxes of cereal.

“It’s inspiring to see how ‘The Cereal Effect’ has grown with an increase in donations and community partnerships,” said Cathy McCarthy, director of philanthropy, who helped to spearhead the project in 2021 and continues to work closely with the student leadership. “Our success is directly attributable to the ingenuity of the event's exceptional student leaders.”

“Our success is directly attributable to the ingenuity of the event's exceptional student leaders.”

- Mrs. Cathy McCarthy, Director of Philanthropy

One of those students came up with the clever name, a play on dominos. Students line up donated cereal boxes like dominos each year, weaving a path through the expansive learning environment. Box after cereal box stretches from the modern, light-filled lobby, past the hi-tech conference center, student commons, and Innovation Hub, and beyond the onsite chapel, part of the original structure that has housed the school in its current location since 1929.

Cereal boxes line the hallways creating a 'Domino Effect.'


After the last box is in place, a single touch begins a chain reaction to the delight of students, faculty and staff who cheer as the boxes fall, creating a domino effect. The powerful visual helps even middle schoolers see how one positive move can lead to another and make a tremendous impact.

Breakfast is widely considered the most important meal of the day for parents and children alike. The American Heart Association reports that breakfast-eaters tend to have lower rates of chronic conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Breakfast also gives kids energy to start their day with direct benefits, including better brain function, memory and attention.

The Ursuline School, Westchester’s oldest Catholic high school, has deeply rooted Core Values, including Serviam and Social Justice. “Our students extend a helping hand to those in need both locally and globally,” said Dr. Melnyk. “It’s a mindset that unites generations of Ursuline alumnae with today’s students.” Principal Napoli adds that excitement continues to build with each cereal donation, from brimming grocery bags to carloads. “We are delighted to empower these young women and give them the tools they need to create a meaningful difference in our community!”

The Cereal Effect serves as a welcome reminder that the spirit of Serviam is alive and well at The Ursuline School. There is no shortage of opportunities to live out the school motto, with nearly one-third of Ursuline’s student-led clubs devoted to service. For more information about the enduring value of an Ursuline education, explore our website or call director of admissions Mrs. Erin Johnston at 914-500-6212. 

Watch 'Leadership in action'

Serviam, "I will serve"