By Christina Leslie | Correspondent
The student body in Holy Cross School, Rumson, heeded Jesus’ call to “feed the hungry” this winter by staging a school-wide food drive that came to fruition during Catholic Schools Week.
The students gathered hundreds of non-perishable food items and donated them to two area organizations. By reminding the students of the need in their own communities, Maryjane Gallo, integrated language arts and religion teacher at Holy Cross for grades six and seven, inspired her students to look beyond their own home life to those less fortunate.
“This is an area once hit hard by Superstorm Sandy,” Gallo said. “There is some poverty in Monmouth County.”
Seventh-grade students, many preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation next year, spearheaded the food drive, visiting other classrooms to explain the collection and posting posters in the school. Each grade level was asked to bring in a different nonperishable food. Gallo said the children took the project to heart, collecting hundreds of cans, boxes and bags during the month-long project, which ended with the conclusion of Catholic Schools Week, Feb. 2.
“January is National Poverty in America Awareness Month,” she noted, “and this is a Corporal Act of Mercy, good Catholic social teaching.”
The trove of food items was destined for equal distribution to two local agencies, one of which was Middletown-based “The Backpack Crew.” The project supports the families of children who qualify for a free lunch program for their school, but who might go hungry during the weekend. Donors fill unmarked backpacks with enough food for Saturdays and Sundays, leaving the bags in a school nurse’s office for anonymous distribution.
Gallo demonstrated these students’ need in terms her own pupils could easily understand.
“[On Monday mornings] I greeted them with the question, ‘Did you have a good weekend; did you have a nice meal? These children didn’t,’” she said.
The other half of the collection was donated to the “Souper Bowl” food drive conducted by the Knights of Columbus Red Bank Council 3187. The fraternal organization, which serves both Holy Cross and Nativity Parish, Fair Haven, is helmed by Grand Knight John Ridgeway.
Ridgeway expressed gratitude for Holy Cross School’s contributions, which is supplementing donations from parish CYO members, brother Knights of Council 525 (which serves St. James/St. Anthony of Padua, Red Bank) and area businesses. He noted the combined bounty was donated to the nonprofit Project PAUL, Keansburg, which runs a thrift shop, pantry and furniture store.
The students of Holy Cross School said they took to heart the benefits of feeding those less fortunate and shared that lesson with their peers.
“The values that I gained were that next time, don’t ask how much can I get, think how much can I give,” seventh-grader Emma Freeman said. “The donation of food [gave] the children love and support that they will have a meal each day and that they won’t go to school or to bed hungry.”
Anthony Primavera, also in the seventh grade, added, “When you give a little or a lot, God’s light shines. Values that one gains from being in a service project is the satisfaction not just for yourself, but the person who is being treated is satisfied since they understand that people care for them and we are trying to help them.”
Fellow seventh-grader Chris Stypa said he learned two lessons from the food drive, starting with appreciation. “Sometimes, I can forget that the children who will be receiving the food from this drive aren’t as lucky as I am. This drive was a way to remind myself that the fact that I have food, clean water, a roof to live under, a bed to sleep in every night and a loving family is a very important thing. It’s a way to remind myself to never complain about the small things in life.
“The second lesson that I learned is to share with others that don’t have as much as I do,” Stypa continued. “It is my job to do my part in helping the world and sharing what I have with people who really need it. Jesus always taught us to share with others, and I believe that it is really important that we do, both literally and spiritually. This is because people who are suffering don’t have to suffer. It is our job as a human race to come together and help the people who really do need our help.”
Sal Cortese, executive director of Project PAUL, noted the pooled donation totaled about 32 boxes of food, or 1,600 pounds of non-perishable necessities. He continued that the donation was “most definitely appreciated,” and went on to detail the number of clients who visited the pantry, in operation on Wednesdays and Fridays.
“We have about 120 to 130 clients each week, and a ‘client’ could be a family of four or six,” Cortese explained. “Food is expensive and there is a steady demand.
“Keansburg is one of the poorest communities in the Bayshore area,” he continued, “and some people are still recovering from the recession in 2008 and [Superstorm] Sandy. This is a good supplement.”