, Salem, MA

November 16, 2013

Salem school rallies around family

Turkey Shoot to also benefit longtime volunteer's children

By Bethany Bray

---- — SALEM — Cheryl Pszenny’s legacy at Witchcraft Heights Elementary School can be seen in yards all over Salem.

For the annual Turkey Shoot fundraiser, Pszenny always designed a set of wooden snowmen yard signs — complete with matching clothing and scarves — to raffle off. They were one of the most popular raffle items, and the winners often set them out in their yards year after year.

Pszenny, a longtime volunteer with the school PTO, died in September at the age of 43 after a brief battle with cancer. Her husband, Wally, died three years ago. They left three children, Brian, 16; Adam, 12; and Katelyn, 10, who are staying locally with family and continue to attend Salem schools.

The school community, still in mourning, has planned this year’s Turkey Shoot to honor their PTO president and raise money for her children.

Cheryl Pszenny will be at this year’s Turkey Shoot in spirit, said Tricia Panneton, who worked closely with her for years on the PTO.

“She’s still everywhere in the school,” Panneton said. “ ... She was the strongest person I’ve ever known, in every way. She would do anything for anyone. She made you feel like whatever was wrong in your life, she was there to say, ‘Don’t worry about this. We’ll take care of this. It’s no problem.’”

Pszenny had been involved with the Turkey Shoot for the past 10 years. She was the type of volunteer who liked to work in the background, and didn’t want attention.

“I’m really glad she’s the person who taught me about helping out and being part of the school,” said Panneton. “I think back to how many times they wanted to end the Turkey Shoot and she fought for it. It’s one of the best things she gave the school.”

The Turkey Shoot is a night of raffles. People purchase raffle tickets at the door, and numbers are called as the evening progresses.

At this year’s event, set for Friday, Nov. 22, they’ll have 10 rounds of raffles, each with roughly 20 items, from gift baskets and a Cape Cod getaway to YMCA memberships and passes for Walt Disney World. All the raffle items are donated by Witchcraft Heights School families and businesses throughout the community.

Three turkeys, a turkey platter and a basket with all the fixings for a holiday dinner will be raffled off with every round. Each of the 10 rounds finishes with the pièce de résistance, a snowman yard sign.

This year, they’ll have a separate table of raffles to raise money for the Pszenny children. Each of Salem’s public schools has donated a gift basket for the Pszenny family raffle table, Panneton said.

Witchcraft Heights School has also organized a 50/50 raffle to benefit the family. They’re selling 200 tickets at $100 each. The raffle winner will receive $10,000 and the Pszenny children will receive $10,000, said Panneton. They’ve sold all but 20 of the 50/50 raffle tickets, Panneton said, and the winning ticket will be drawn at the Turkey Shoot.

The Turkey Shoot is the PTO’s largest fundraiser of the year and it usually draws about 300 people.

People even line up outside the building before the doors open, Panneton said.

“It’s a lot of fun. There are people who have been coming for 20 or 30 years,” she said. “Some people come just because they love it (and don’t have children at the school). ... It’s really a community event.”

Organizing the event and collecting all the raffle donations is a lot of work, but it’s a labor of love — and something Cheryl always felt was worth it, said Panneton.

“This was her thing,” she said. “... Cheryl was such a huge part of the school for so many years. She was just the one that made things happen. There were years that the PTO existed with just her and I. ... She kept going (even through the loss of her husband). A lot of what this school has is because of her.”

Bethany Bray can be reached at and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.