Above, Allie Smith, 12, a seventh grader; Gage Meyers, 12, a sixth grader; Taylor Bergles, 12, a seventh grader; and Helena Biehn, 14, an eighth grader, load donated food into a truck at Providence Catholic School West Campus on Nov. 25 in Kansasville.
Right, Posing with food they and fellow students at Providence Catholic School East Campus in Union Grove collected are (front row, from left) Jamie Tambornino, 9, a fourth grader; David Lux, 5, in kindergarten; Zane Meyers, 9, a third grader; (back row) Grace Henke, 7, a first grader; and Tyler Larson, 7, a second grader. The food was donated to the Westosha Sharing Center Food Pantry. (Catholic Herald photos by Ernie Mastroianni)
Tiny school, big donations
By Karen Mahoney
Special to your Catholic Herald
KANSASVILLE/UNION GROVE, – As students across the United States start feeling the itch of Christmas and prepare for a season of bounty, children from the East and West campuses of Providence Catholic School in Kansasville and Union Grove had something else on their minds: feeding the needy.
Students got the idea to collect for the Westosha Sharing Center Food Pantry when school parent Patricia Smith learned that needy families from their school were turned away for help at local pantries due to barren shelves.
“I called several pantries and they all said the same thing, they were desperate for donations and have had to turn people away,” she said. “I knew our families here would want to help and I felt compelled to become personally involved. I feel grateful that Providence’s wonderful new principal, Mrs. Jean Caldwell, allowed the school to become involved in this cause. She has been very supportive.”
To kick off the food drive, Caldwell held a prayer service at the school on Nov. 13, the feast of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini and told the story of the young missionary, who only a few weeks after she and some other missionary sisters landed in America, asked the archbishop of New York to let the sisters start an orphanage.
Caldwell explained the archbishop’s reluctance to open the orphanage, for fear that the $5,000 they asked for would not be enough to feed and care for the orphans.
“The woman reminded the archbishop that in the ‘Our Father’ we ask God to give bread only for a day, not for a year,” she said. “What could the archbishop say? He blessed Mother Cabrini and granted permission to open the home.”
The very first day Mother Cabrini and her sisters went to their new home, they found a surprise at the foot of the statue of the Sacred Heart by the entrance. Someone had placed a loaf of freshly baked bread. Mother Cabrini praised God for his bounty and knew that he would provide for the orphaned children.
Caldwell used this story to encourage her young students to be like the saint whose selfless acts brought about the opening of numerous schools, hospitals and orphanages.
“I told the students that they were like young missionaries and how whatever they do as a service project is so meaningful to those less fortunate,” she said. “I talked about the food drive and donating canned goods and told them that whether or not others had a festive turkey dinner like we would have doesn’t matter because the boxes of macaroni and tuna they give are all very meaningful to them. The students were very inspired that they were young missionaries like St. Frances.”
The idea of serving God as a young missionary was exciting for second grade student Tyler Larson, whose class collected 248 non-perishable food items, the most in their West campus school.
“I want to help the poor people,” he said, adding, “Some of them will have food in their tummies because of us.”
Eighth grader Tom Lourigan agreed.
“It’s nice we did this because it is cold and people are hungry. The economy is not good and there are a lot of people who can use this food for Thanksgiving,” he said.
Themed the “Great Race to Feed Your Neighbor,” classes from kindergarten through grade eight competed to see who could collect the most food. Students watched their class turkey compete on a Great Race wall chart as donations arrived. According to Smith, the response from the student body of 100 was overwhelming. Initially, volunteers planned to load the trunk of a car with donations, but 1,880 items of food later, students packed two vanloads. Overall winners of the drive were the fifth grade students who collected 474 items.
“We really thought the kids would only collect a few cans of food, but in came crates and bags of food,” Smith said. “They all have such generous spirits. The kids had so much fun and every time a new count came in the kids began jumping up and down and did a little ‘gobble gobble’ turkey dance; it was very rewarding.”
Liz Peyton, executive director of the Westosha Sharing Center in Paddock Lake, admitted that their organization is strapped, serving nearly 500 people per month, up from 70 just six months ago.
“Our number of children we serve has tripled in the past few months,” she said. “It used to be that we had mainly seniors and those on disability coming here and now only half are in that group; the rest are families who are really struggling,” she said.
With nearly empty shelves, the thought that they would run out of food before winter kept Peyton awake many nights. However, thanks to groups like Providence who stepped up to help, she was not only able to restock her pantry shelves, but the reserves as well.
“We are so grateful because now we have food in our basement, too,” she said. “We weren’t able to give a full five-seven days of food for any number of families and now we can do that again. This is quite scary and I have not seen it let up. The need for food seems to be getting worse; people are coming in here in tears, and worried they are not going to be able to feed their family. Many have never asked for help before and it is a big change.”
While she has never gone hungry or longed for a warm house and clothing, seventh grade student Taylor Bergles realizes that she could easily be in the same situation as those who utilize the food pantry.
“There are so many people out there who need food and it makes me feel good that we are able to give back to help them,” she said. “I know now that if something were to happen to one of us, the community would give back to us. I feel very good about being a Catholic and I think God is proud of us.”