RA senior leaves his mark with food drive; Joey’s Hope NOLA is dear to Mazzella family
Published 12:42 pm Saturday, April 22, 2023
RESERVE — With his senior year drawing to a close, Riverside Academy Class President Thomas Mazzella IV wanted to be remembered for something bigger than school clubs and sports.
Thomas is leaving his mark by spearheading a food drive for Joey’s Hope NOLA, an organization founded in memory of a family friend dear to his heart. By collecting single-serve food items, Thomas is helping Joey’s Hope NOLA provide food, clothing, shelter and other basic necessities to children experiencing food insecurity.
Along the way, Thomas hopes to inspire the next generation of students to make a difference in the lives of others.
“As I reminisce about my years here, I have realized how blessed I have been to be in a private school and never have had to worry about my home life or my next meal,” Thomas said. “My mom and I talked about school and how it can leave a mark on us, but also how we can leave our mark. That said, I want to do just that; I want to be remembered for positively impacting Riverside and doing something good to impact others.”
Each week, Joey’s Hope NOLA volunteers fill grocery bags with essentials to send home with children after school. The following single-serve items are being collected at Riverside Academy through Friday, April 28: mac and cheese, fruit snacks, peanuts, vegetables (green beans, corn, carrots), oatmeal, raisins, cereal, shelf ready milk, juice boxes, ravioli, and peanut butter or cheese crackers.
Joey’s Hope NOLA was established in 2011, one year after USMC Sergeant Joseph Bovia paid the ultimate sacrifice as a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan.
Thomas’ mother, Sonya Mazzella, worked for Joey’s mother and babysat him as a child. Later on, Joey became a role model for her children.
“He would come visit and play with my kids. I had a daughter pass away, and he actually came home and was a part of the funeral. He always kept in touch with me and Thomas,” Sonya said. “Even though Thomas was a baby when he passed, we still talk about him. I still have his pictures on our mantle. He’s still very much a part of our lives.”
Thomas makes sure his sister Haylee and Joey are never forgotten, even though his own memories of them are shaped from pictures and family stories. He’s participated in a memory run in their names and carried flowers to the cemetery where they both are buried.
One time, instead of flowers, Thomas brought a can of Coca-Cola that said “Share a Coke with a Hero” to Joey’s grave.
“Before Joey was killed, he was rebuilding a school for kids over there (in Afghanistan),” Thomas said. “I just feel like the least I could do to honor him is give food to kids over here. He was trying to do something really great over there. Why can’t I do something small over here?”
Sonya reminded Thomas that no matter how big or small, any good deed makes a difference in someone’s life.
Since Thomas started the food drive, a lot of students have asked about the story behind Joey’s Hope NOLA.
“When I told them he passed in Afghanistan, I think it resonates because they realize that we actually know people who passed away in the military. They’re excited to be able to do something in his memory once I tell them the story,” Sonya said. “This is a way to help others while remembering someone who gave their life for our country.”
As Thomas leaves his mark at Riverside, his legacy also includes serving as senior class president, senior beta club vice president, co-president of the drama club, and a member of RA’s student council, trivia club, and baseball, football and soccer teams. He has one of the main roles in RA Ovation’s Spring 2023 play, “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
After graduation, Thomas plans to attend Nicholls State University and study psychology before applying for law school. He plans to pursue family law, a field that will allow him to make a difference in the lives of others.
While the food drive at Riverside Academy ends April 28, Thomas and Sonya invite the community to support Joey’s Hope NOLA throughout the year. For more information about the organization, visit joeyshopenola.org.