Haldane Cancels Football Fundraiser

Expresses concern about Chick-fil-A

The superintendent of the Haldane Central School District canceled a Chick-fil-A fundraiser planned for the homecoming football game on Sept. 20 because of concerns about commercial activity on school grounds and the restaurant chain’s history of supporting organizations that oppose same-sex marriage or disparage homosexuality as sinful.

In response, a parent purchased more than $300 worth of Chick-fil-A sandwiches that she and another parent distributed to Haldane student-athletes and spectators.


In a letter to parents on Monday (Sept. 23), Superintendent Philip Benante wrote that he had been notified two days before the Friday night game that employees from Chick-fil-A had been invited to sell donated sandwiches at the game to benefit the football booster club. Benante said Haldane Coach Ryan McConville, with the approval of athletic director Chris Salumn, had arranged the fundraiser.

Benante said he was alerted to the plan after a parent complained that foundations funded by Chick-fil-A support organizations criticized as being anti-gay. The founders of the chain are evangelical Christians; besides its sandwiches, the restaurant is known for being closed on Sundays.

Benante told Salumn to cancel the fundraiser and, in his email to parents, outlined his objections. He said Chick-fil-A had promoted its products for fundraisers in February at a meeting of football coaches from Section 1, which includes schools in Putnam and Dutchess counties. Benante said he felt that pitch was “outside the scope of acceptable activity at such coaches’ meetings.”

Further, he wrote, state education law prohibits commercial promotional activity on school grounds except when a business sponsors an event. He later noted that Haldane also prohibits commercial advertising on campus.

As for the gay-rights issue, he told parents, “it is well-documented that the company’s CEO has been outspoken on social issues which impact the LGBTQ community. Given such, additional policies and procedures must be reviewed prior to entering into any arrangement for the sale of the company’s product on school grounds in order to maintain an appropriate educational environment.”

Benante clarified in an email to The Current that those additional Haldane policies would include one that prohibits discrimination against students or faculty members based on sexual orientation or gender “at all school-sponsored activities, programs and events.” He also wrote that he “was concerned about the potential disruption to the school community” given the strong feelings about the company.

Benante told parents that he planned to share his concerns with the executive board of Section 1 Athletics while also reviewing Haldane’s fundraising policies.

After the fundraiser was canceled, several parents upset with the decision made their own arrangements. Melissa Santos of Cold Spring, whose twin sons play on the football team and whose daughter is on the junior varsity volleyball squad, said she drove the 45 minutes to the Danbury Fair Mall in Connecticut with a friend to purchase 75 sandwiches for $312.

Is Chick-fil-A Anti-Gay?

Chick-fil-A, which is the third largest restaurant chain in the nation behind McDonald’s and Starbucks (it has 27 outlets in New York state, including in New York City), has drawn criticism because its founders have supported organizations that oppose same-sex marriage or denounce homosexuality as sinful.

In 2012, an executive, Dan Cathy, claimed same-sex marriage was “inviting God’s judgment on our nation.” He added that his company was “very much supportive of the family,” which he defined as the “biblical definition of the family unit.”

In response to criticism, Chick-fil-A said it would “leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.” The family’s Marriage & Family Legacy Fund, which was created to fight same-sex marriage, was dissolved in 2013, and the firm says its foundations no longer support strident groups such as the Family Research Council.

In 2017, according to its most recent available IRS filing, the Chick-fil-A Foundation gave nearly $10 million to 300 causes, mostly charities that serve low-income children. But the list included two organizations that have been accused of being anti-gay: The Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), which received $1.65 million in 2017, and the Salvation Army, which was given $150,000.

The FCA requires members to agree to a Sexual Purity Statement that describes homosexuality as not “acceptable to God”; the Salvation Army has long been criticized for its stance that homosexuality is sinful.

The Chick-fil-A Foundation said the money given to the FCA was only used for summer camps and that campers “were not required to be a member of FCA and did not have to sign any FCA pledges.”

The funds given to the Salvation Army, it said, was also for camps as well as Christmas gifts for low-income children. The Salvation Army has in recent years removed assertions about homosexuality from its website and emphasizes that its services are provided to anyone who needs them, including gays and lesbians.

Chick-fil-A still faces occasional backlash. Earlier this year, officials in Buffalo and San Antonio, Texas, prevented the company from opening outlets in airport food courts. A few universities also have turned down proposals to bring the restaurant to campus, including Fordham and Rider University in New Jersey.

In response, Chick-fil-A said in a statement that it does “not have a political or social agenda” and that “we embrace all people, regardless of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Santos delivered 25 sandwiches to the J.V. volleyball team, which also played Friday, while Mary Ellen Yannitelli of Garrison, whose late son Anthony played for Haldane, handed out the remainder during the game while standing next to the concession stand in an area behind a table operated by the Blue Devil Booster Club.

Yannitelli said she had started to make a sign that read “Eat Mor Chikin” — the Chick-fil-A slogan — but had only completed the E and A before 30 people were in line.

“We could have sold 500,” she said, although she asked only for donations “since this was unofficial. It was all kind of sneaky.” Yannitelli later drove to Danbury to buy 25 more sandwiches because none had been set aside for the football players.

Santos said she was upset with Benante’s decision because she felt the district had “allowed an adult issue into a children’s game” and “allowed someone to infiltrate our school system to hurt our children. Nobody cared about the LGBTQ connection. Chick-fil-A wanted to give our kids sandwiches, and I don’t think there was any ulterior motive on its part.

“My son Darrin came home so excited when he learned they planned to have Chick-fil-A,” she said. “He told me, ‘Guess what I heard?’ I didn’t want my kids to be disappointed.”

Chick-fil-A products

On Facebook, Yannitelli posted that “a few intolerant locals took offense” and “a fundraiser got squashed. I’m crushed. I loathe intolerance.”

Later, in an interview, Yannitelli said that “the parent who complained and anyone else has the option to not buy a chicken sandwich. Frankly, I could go to the school tomorrow and say, ‘I want you to get rid of Facebook and Chrome and Google because they support causes I don’t believe in.’ If people want to buy products from companies that support gay issues, nobody is stopping them. Where does it end?”

Many of the residents and parents who congratulated Yannitelli on Facebook after she quipped that she was a “rebel” who was “bucking the system” dismissed the complaint about Chick-fil-A as having come from “bullies,” “the perpetually triggered” and a small group “who felt the need to bring their agenda to a nice, small community.” One person praised Yannitelli for her stand against “political correctness.”

16 thoughts on “Haldane Cancels Football Fundraiser

  1. No public school should be aligning themselves with a business like Chik-fil-A that promotes such outright bigotry. It’s a terrible example for young people. In the future, should chicken sandwiches be needed, just ask myself and other locals gays to make them, and I assure you they will be AMAZING.

  2. Congratulations Haldane for teaching students what to do when confronted with alternative viewpoints: Shut it down, even when the viewpoint has evolved into support which “helps with economic mobility of young people by focusing on homelessness and poverty, education, and community revitalization, and is done with no political or social agenda.” Disgraceful.

  3. We are lucky to have a superintendent like Dr. Benante who ensures that Haldane activities are always in compliance with law and policy as he did here. In addition, the community benefits when we witness the power of a consumer choices — steering clear of corporations that fund intolerance and hate, which have no place at Haldane or any other school. Well done, Dr. Benante!

  4. Thank you Superintendent Philip Benante and Haldane for doing the right thing.

    Thank you Chip Rowe and Highlands Current for covering this story.

    Phil Geoffrey Bond, you are absolutely right, thank you for your comment.

    Mary Ellen, we’ve known each other a long time, I love you and your family, and I am sorry that this has upset you so much. I hope you can find it your heart to understand the negativity Chick-fil-A represents to me and many of our neighbors. I am certain that all-a-y’all had no ill intention, and I hope this does not stop you from continuing to make great contributions in our community.

    I have been in Philipstown since I was a baby, and am grateful to be part of this amazing, evolving community.

  5. Does it not matter that, as The Current reported, Chick-fil-A “says its foundations no longer support strident groups such as the Family Research Council”?

    Haldane’s action in banning Chick-fil-A teaches students:
    1. If your viewpoint differs from another, shut them down.
    2. Even if you change your mind on an issue, nearly a decade later it can still be held against you.
    3. If someone had a viewpoint that you disagree with you should hold onto vengeance forever; even when the viewpoint changes. Don’t forgive, destroy.

  6. If money is to be spent buying chicken sandwiches for fundraisers, buy local. Plenty of our local businesses make chicken sandwiches, and could easily mimic the Chick-fil-A sandwich.

    Chick-fil-A has a long history of fighting to restrict the rights of the LGBTQ community. Statements made by the CEO in 2012 were blatantly homophobic, and he has never apologized for them. Tax records prove the company continues to aggressively support an anti-gay agenda, while posturing as all-inclusive. Any company that actively works to suppress the rights of a minority group is the very definition of intolerance. It is anti-First Amendment, it is anti-American. No one is this community should support them.
    This is not an isolated incident. This controversy springs up all over the nation.

    I am proud that leaders in our community took a stance for what is right. There is nothing more American than standing up for equal rights. Regardless of your personal beliefs, if we are not all equal before the law, then none of us are.

  7. Several points here: Superintendent Benante made the correct and only call: The fundraiser was not approved through proper channels and this alone would have been enough to say no. But he went further because of Chick-fil-A’s long standing opposition to LGTBQ issues and because it is his responsibility to ensure that every student who might be sitting in a Haldane classroom and fall under the umbrella of that acronym feel that they are in a safe place.

    In light of Benante’s decision, the lesson to me is that bullies are alive and well in our community. Distributing Chick-fil-A sandwiches was an affront to Haldane students who might be sitting in a classroom or on the bleachers wondering if Haldane is indeed a safe space. Teen suicide is highest among its LBGTQ population, and despite the argument that this was harmless, it sends a very clear message. Children look to adults to see which path to take and which behavior to model. I applaud Superintendent Benante for understanding the finer points of this issue. Sometimes actions do more harm than people realize.

  8. The bigger issue is how did the coach and athletic director arrange for a commercially sponsored fundraiser without first seeking superintendent or school board approval?

  9. The canceled Chick-fil-A fundraiser at Haldane left a nasty taste in my mouth. As members of the LGBTQIA and Cold Spring communities, my wife and I also found the statement “nobody cared about the LGBTQ connection” hard to digest.

    Imagine how LGBTQIA members of Haldane’s sports programs and student body felt reading that for some parents, consideration of their rights was trumped by a free chicken sandwich. This is not how we should relate to one another in what a commentator described as our “nice, small community.”

    It is also difficult to swallow that some Haldane parents elected to drive 45 minutes to Danbury to provide sandwiches made by a corporate chain. Plenty of local vendors offer delicious sandwiches and/or the supplies to make them. I’m sure they would have appreciated the business.

    It seems we should be celebrating Superintendent Benante’s decision to cancel the fundraiser, not only for his stand against intolerance in our schools, but also for its tasty economic implications.

  10. Every time the liberals balk about this company, they sell more chicken. [via Facebook]

  11. It’s not about being offended or not being able to listen to opposing viewpoints. Haldane is a community of children who we are preparing to be adults. There are LGBTQ students in this community, and LGBTQ families in Philipstown. To have a community where we feel invested in the common good, everyone needs to feel welcome. The alternative is criticism of fundamental aspects of who they are, which only leads to shame and worse. [via Facebook]

  12. If this action was taken for the proper reasons, I would expect to see many more people and businesses banned from school property. This is simply political, hysterical bull. Had I been there, I would gladly have purchased a sandwich to support our team. [via Facebook]

  13. Kudos to Superintendent Benante, who did the right thing. It is imperative that anybody who chooses or finds themselves living in a small community not succumb to small-mindedness. While some loathe intolerance while also practicing it (no small feat!), I loathe dishonesty and any type of supremacy.

  14. Being conscious of how others perceive your choices should be Humanity 101. Clearly no one in this great town wanted to offend, yet clearly some would take offense to it. Why didn’t anyone suggest that? And why do others seem to take such joy in abusing those who are offended? The smart money would’ve been to choose a less-controversial option for this worthy cause. Be part of the solution, not just another angry voice holding us back from the harmony we all should be seeking.

  15. I am a board member for the football booster club, and we had nothing to do with the sandwiches being distributed at the game. It was not our issue. I asked the crowd to move on; I’m sorry I didn’t get there sooner because I was watching my two boys on the team play together for the first time at homecoming.

    The administration made an error and the superintendent needs to put policies in place as guidelines for fundraising. The students need money for equipment and so much more. [via Facebook]

  16. It is more than sad to think adults in power and in charge of the education of our children could be so ignorant and/or bias. Chick-fil-A is not an anti-gay business. The propaganda against this company is despicable. The company employs thousands of gay and trans employees and serves all people. The ridiculous claim that Chick-fil-A is anti-gay comes from the left, which seeks to attack and destroy anything remotely Christian. The vague anti-gay terms of accusing Chick-fil-A of wrongdoing has no basis. Educate yourselves and understand that children are being indoctrinated to the left’s agenda everyday in school.