A chance encounter in the aisles of his supermarket led ShopRite owner David Zallie to donate $25,000 to the Lawnside Education Foundation.
Zallie already had been introduced to foundation president Sandra Strothers when they "bumped into each other while she was shopping during the holidays," he said. "We said, 'Let's make it a point to meet.' "
They did. The result - celebrated during a ceremony Tuesday at the Lawnside Public School - fulfills the private, nonprofit foundation's inaugural fund-raising goal of $50,000.
Strothers "was very passionate, very persuasive," Zallie said.
"He said, 'OK, you're at $25,000. I'll give you the other $25,000,' " Strothers said. "I had to look around the room to see if there was a Candid Camera there."
The money is being used for iPads, furniture, and other improvements to the school's media center, where about 40 people gathered to honor Zallie and his wife, Renee. They live in Medford, where they own another ShopRite.
"We know it's going to be money well spent," said David Zallie, looking over a traditional school library being transformed by an impressive array of flat-screen monitors, whiteboards, and other technology.
Lawnside School Superintendent Ronn Johnson said the district's sole building, which serves about 300 students in pre-K through grade eight, already functions much like a community center.
He hopes the foundation's contributions eventually will enable the media center to offer evening hours so adults can use the facilities as well. Lawnside does not have its own public library.
The foundation's contributions go toward special projects and cannot be used to bridge shortfalls or make up for funding cuts in the district's annual budget, currently $8 million.
The money has been painstakingly raised, mostly in small donations, over the last four years. The foundation's signature event - a dinner dance - draws about 300 people annually.
"We have had some large donors, who gave $1,000 or $1,500. One donated $5,000," Strothers said.
"We continued to increase our outreach regionally, to alums of the school, and people who embrace the Lawnside tradition and history. But we couldn't have gotten to this place" without the Zallies.
Tuesday's event was as much a celebration of the arrival of the Zallies' business in Lawnside as their generosity.
The ShopRite opened last July after renovating a onetime Pathmark supermarket that had been empty for nearly a year and a half. The center on the White Horse Pike, where a former Kmart still stands vacant, is the main retail strip in the historically African American borough of about 3,000.
"We had no grocery store here," Mayor Mary Ann Wardlow said. "Then the Zallies came to town, not knowing anybody.
"They've become part of our family. You couldn't ask for a better partner."
David Zallie, who seemed moved by the standing ovation at the end of Tuesday's event, said he was taken aback by the community's welcome.
"As a business owner, you really don't expect that kind of reception," he said.
"It takes a village to raise a child," School Board President Sabrina R. Forrest told the Zallies. "You are a valued member of our village."