WILMINGTON – Community service became a school project Jan. 29 at St. Mary Magdalen, where, for the fifth year, the student body and faculty joined together to help out the less fortunate. The school spent part of the morning preparing food for the Emmanuel Dining Room, then gathered in the afternoon to hear about the work done at the three dining room locations.
It was an impressive undertaking, from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. The students and their families made 70 pounds of baked ziti, 40 pounds of fruit salad, 300 cupcakes and 149 brown-bag lunches for the Emmanuel Dining Room on Jackson Street in Wilmington. There were also 100 fleece scarves made by teacher Clare Moore, along with 120 goodie bags with coloring books, crayons and stickers.
The project grows each year, said Tina Gillen, a St. Mary Magdalen faculty member and one of the organizers. “We thought it was a great idea for the kids to do a service project during Catholic Schools Week.”
The school sought out a charity, and the Emmanuel Dining Room staff gladly accepted.
Every grade took part in Wednesday’s preparation. Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students (safely) cut fruit for the salad. First- through third-graders made the ziti, mixing the pasta, which had been cooked at their homes, with sauce and cheese. The fourth and fifth grades prepared cupcakes, while the sixth grade put together the brown-bag lunches.
Filling the goodie bags was the job of the seventh- and eighth-graders. One eighth-grader who has been part of all five of this endeavor all five years, Grace DiGiovanni, said she appreciates the approach school leaders have taken with respect to the project.
“They find a way to do it in a really fun way, so you have fun doing it and you’re also helping someone out,” Grace said. “I think it’s really nice that they do this for people that don’t have as much as we do.”
Kindergarten teacher Andrea Rossi said it’s important to find some way for the youngest students to help. “We chose fruits that they can participate with, like plucking the grapes, or peeling the clementines. It’s things they can have success at, but it’s still healthy for the Emmanuel Dining Room.”
Gillen said other than the volume of food prepared by the students, little else has changed.
“We’ve had the same menu for all five years,” she said, “but it works well for them and it works well for us, too.”
The pasta is enough for more than one day’s meal, so whatever is not needed can be frozen. It would be great if the students could go down to the Emmanuel Dining Room on Jackson Street to see what becomes of their work, but that is not practical, Gillen said.
“It’s such a great feeling when you go down there. You want to bring that feeling back to the kids, but it’s really hard,” she said.
St. Mary Magdalen tried to do that by having Capuchin Franciscan Brother Miguel Ramirez, director of the Emmanuel Dining Room, visit the school for an assembly to explain to the students the importance of their generosity.
Every day, he said, hundreds of people line up at one of the three Emmanuel Dining Room locations. Last year, 186,000 meals were served, some 6,000 more than the previous year. Breakfast is served Monday through Friday, and lunch all seven days of the week.
“They’re waiting every single day,” Brother Miguel said of the folks who line up as lunch approaches.
The brown-bag lunches are important because many folks are homeless, and when they leave the Emmanuel Dining Room, they may not have someplace to go, but they still need food. Just like a car, a body requires fuel – for humans, that comes in the form of food, Brother Miguel said.
“That may be the only meal they have the rest of the day,” he said. “I hope none of us here will ever be homeless.”
Without food, people spend their time figuring out how they will get their next meal. That may prevent them from looking for work or a place to live, he said.
Priscilla Rakestraw, the director of development for the Ministry of Caring, which operates the dining rooms, told the students that helping those less fortunate is something anyone can do.
“You don’t have to be a big person … to help someone who is poor,” she said.
Brother Miguel took questions from students, encouraging them at every turn to continue their work for the poor.
“You’re doing God’s work here on earth,” he said.