Story by Thomas Wiedmann | Correspondent
Gathered together in St. Catharine School, Spring Lake, the morning of July 25, 45 teens and youth ministers came ready and willing, not simply to work but to serve the Lord.
Photo Gallery: Splash teens work in Hillside food bank
Photo Gallery: Splash retreat Mass
The teens participated in the annual, one-day service work project and retreat known as Splash, a service program set up for students in grades eight through 12 that is coordinated by the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries.
The day’s events included the teens and youth ministers volunteering their time in the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, Hillside, which was preceded by prayer and a morning discussion at the school given by Dan Waddington, director of the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries. The day also included time to relax and reflect at the beach, and wrapped up with a Mass celebrated by Father Martin O’Reilly, parochial vicar of St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake, and diocesan youth chaplain.
After the morning’s discussion, the teens prepared about 200 bagged lunches for the homeless, each bag made special with a picture, prayer and inspirational message from the individual teen bagging the lunch.
Waddington shared stories with the Splash members of his experiences serving at food banks. He said that although the teens wouldn’t be able to physically see the people they were helping through their work project, their efforts would still be reaching countless individuals in communities.
“This year’s Splash is focusing on how we can help in a small way with individual projects as well as still being a part of the big picture of how food gets handed down from the food banks to the pantries to the soup kitchens here in New Jersey,” Waddington said. “It’s important to bring everyone together and understand that a service project like this is not so much about the actual ‘work’ as much as it’s about why we serve and why we work by serving Jesus through others.”
As the day wore on, the teens made an hourlong bus trek from Spring Lake to Hillside and entered the warehouse of the third-largest food bank in the country, coming upon column after column of cardboard boxes stacked from the concrete floor to the ceiling with donated goods.
Splash members were immediately put to work, gathering around an assembly line steel table and sorting donated goods from towering boxes into smaller shipping boxes that included bottled drinks, baby food, dry goods such as pasta and cereal, canned goods, condiments and pet food.
During sounds of packaging tape being peeled away to seal hundreds of boxes of donated goods, Cristina Imparato, diocesan coordinator of Young Adult Ministry, emphasized the significance of Splash teens coming together from parishes across the Diocese.
“They’re forming a community, and they get to know kids from other parishes, and get to see that it’s a universal Church even in this small Diocese of Trenton,” Imparato said. “It’s all about service. It doesn’t mean you have to go to a food bank or soup kitchen, but that it’s about ‘service starts at home.’ They have to serve one another in Christ so that they can grow in a relationship with him.”
After putting in hours of work at the food bank, the Splash participants headed back to St. Catharine School to reflect on their experience. One of the Splash teens, Holly Beske, 17, of St. David the King Parish, West Windsor, was happy to discuss her thoughts on the day with other members on the bus.
“Before we came here, the group director told us how Jesus said, ‘What you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me,’ so it was good keeping that in mind to help the less fortunate and how it’s also about helping Jesus and God,” Beske said.
Levy Loiseau, 17, and his brother, Lemuel, 14, of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, not only enjoyed working together to move around a myriad of donated goods, but also acknowledged the spiritual growth opportunity the project offered.
“Being able to provide for your fellow brother is something I cherish a lot as a Catholic because no one else is going to do it unless you do it yourself. So putting yourself in a hands-on experience to really make a difference – to see what you’re doing even if you may not see their faces, but really just knowing that you’re helping your fellow brother – that’s something you carry on with you and your Catholicism,” Levy Loiseau said.
Added Lemuel Loiseau, “It takes a lot to get all of that food together, and I learned piety and charity from it today because you’re giving back to the community and helping people in need.”
Lucia Goumas, 16, of St. Catharine Parish, Holmdel, accredited to the project’s learning experience to working among other teens around the Diocese.
“To be in that warehouse today and see all the food – it felt really amazing that we could have our hands on that and know that it would be a part of where those less fortunate would be helped,” said Goumas. “It felt like being with a bunch of people I didn’t know, but we still felt like we were one and united. It felt like we really portrayed something Jesus would do through discipleship.”
Faith Takes Form
Shortly after, the Splash teens spent a few hours at the beach, playing whiffle-ball, soccer, football and other games. Once the teens reconvened in the school cafeteria for a pizza dinner, they finished their slices and headed upstairs to the gymnasium to wrap up the day with a Mass celebrated by Father O’Reilly.
The teens sat in plastic chairs to the left and right of the diocesan chaplain, giving the gymnasium a conversational setting. There, Father O’Reilly’s homily embraced the idea of putting faith into action. “Today is one of those days where faith takes life form. It takes a shape and image,” he explained.
After Mass and with the day coming to a close, Father O’Reilly stressed the importance for the teens to continue the work of the Lord beyond the Splash event.
“Splash allows them to see that they’re doing something positive. But hopefully today won’t just be the beginning and the end of their faith in action. Hopefully they can realize that we can continue this,” he said.
“One of the core values of Christianity is to help one’s brothers and sisters, and today, whenever we see faith in action, that would hopefully help them realize to be able to reach out to our brothers and sisters because that’s what Christ really wants us to do," he added.