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November 23, 2015 | Volume 91 Number 2


photo: Walsingham second graders proudly exhibiting three of the four boxes they decorated for the food drive. Mary Clemens is front row, far left.

Walsingham second graders proudly exhibiting three of the four boxes they decorated for the food drive. Mary Clemens is front row, far left.

Walsingham students help with food drive

Second-grader Mary Clemens at Walsingham Academy Lower School in Williamsburg initiated a class food drive that brought in nearly 200 non-perishable groceries for FISH, Inc.

FISH, an all-volunteer nonprofit emergency crisis agency, provides food, clothing and household items to residents in the greater Williamsburg area. It relies on donations of goods as well as on financial donations. During 2014, volunteers responded to more than 5,000 requests for assistance.

The class food drive came at a perfect time.

FISH volunteer Billie Johnston explained that in the summer months donations are low, but the demand is high. That’s largely because families who normally donate food are on vacation, but disadvantaged children who normally have breakfast and lunch at school need food for their meals at home. As a result, FISH is currently purchasing about 70 percent of its groceries for the food bank.

Service projects like the second-grade food drive are an important component at Walsingham, a Catholic school for children from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

The school, sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, strives to teach the order’s core values of dignity, integrity, spiritual growth and development, respect, hospitality, appreciation of diversity, compassion, justice and service, explained Annette Couch, religion teacher for first and second grades.

There are multiple school-wide service projects, and classes do their own more-hands-on, age-appropriate service projects as well. This month students in the Lower School are collecting paper products such as paper towels, napkins and paper plates and cups for residents of St. Joseph’s Home operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Richmond which serves the elderly.

“The religion classes highlight the need to help others and the service projects show them how to do so,” said Lower School Director Mary Johnston.

“We help children think of ways they can help the world,” she said.

Class discussion on the need to help others prompted Mary to initiate the food drive. The catalyst was a picture in her religion book of a family packing foods to donate.

As a religion class activity the students were asked to draw a picture of how they could serve God. Mary drew a picture of her family shopping at the grocery store to purchase items for a food bank.

Mary approached her parents with the idea of a food drive for FISH. She had previously helped stock food there with her brother’s Cub Scout troop and found it “very, very fun,” she said.

Doing so also made her aware that she can make a difference in people’s lives, her mother said.

Her parents, Heather and David Clemens, maintain the timing of Mary’s idea is evidence the Holy Spirit called her to initiate the food drive.

”We’re proud of her [for initiating the project], but what’s more important for us as parents is that she is having this encounter with Christ; she is having this calling, and she is listening to it and acting on it for good,” her mother said. “She is also influencing others to help as well.”

Mary’s leadership included describing her project to Ms. Couch and her second-grade teacher Vicki Erickson and presenting it to the class. In addition to collecting food, she wanted her classmates to decorate the five collection boxes and to have the opportunity to stock the shelves at FISH, thus allowing them to see the service project from beginning to end, Mrs. Clemens explained.

The class “jumped right on board” with the service project, Ms. Couch said, emphasizing that all 19 second-grade students participated.

Each student decorated a piece of construction paper with images they felt would make the recipients happy. They drew hearts, peace signs and outstretched hands as well as other pictures, and they added additional decorations such as feathers, stickers and streamers. The drawings were then attached to the different sides of the collection boxes.

The students eagerly watched the boxes fill with donations over two weeks.

“They realized that they had an opportunity to make many people happy,” Ms. Couch said.

Mary, her fellow classmate Ryan Vail and her 11-year-old brother Christopher helped shelve the food after school when the food drive was completed. It was apparent that it was “very, very fun” again as they raced from box to shelf.

To the “delight” of clients, FISH repacked the boxes with the food allotted for each client and distributed the groceries to them in the decorated boxes, Ms. Billie Johnston said.

Ms. Erickson said the importance of serving others is woven through the curriculum, and Ms. Couch said she teaches the students that whenever people serve others, they are serving Jesus.

“I learned that keeping poor people healthy and safe is very important in life,” said Mary who has attended the school since pre-K.

Staff encourages students to embrace each service project as an act of love and to “really put their hearts into their service,” the lower school director said. In so doing, she hopes the children will view giving as exciting rather than as painful so they will continue to serve others throughout their lives.

“It becomes a part of who you are,” she explained.

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