By Christina Galeone
A Holy Year of Mercy project recently brought together students from Our Lady of the Valley Elementary School in Uxbridge and a group of 9th-grade religious education students from St. Patrick Parish in Whitinsville. The Homeless Care Packages Project, which resulted in 300 care packages for homeless people in Worcester and Boston, gave the children a chance to help others, while being instruments of God’s love.
Pope Francis spoke of God’s grace and love when he opened a Holy Door Jan. 1, the feast of the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. “Let us open wide the doors of our heart to the joy of forgiveness, conscious that we have been given new confidence and hope, and thus make our daily lives a humble instrument of God’s love,” he proclaimed.
The Blackstone Valley children have been leading the way to be those instruments.
The project, which involved collecting items such as gloves, hats, socks, non-perishable snacks, hand warmers, hygiene products and tissues, was suggested by Ray Kane, a 9th-grade religious education teacher at St. Patrick’s. He proposed the idea for the project to his students in the fall of 2015. But he didn’t know what to expect.
“We talked about the homeless issues in our community, greater community and country. They became excited and started to look at a variety of resources, in order to develop a list of what they wanted to put into these care packages,” recalled Mr. Kane.
“Before Christmas, my students spent many hours outside of class time developing the speech to give to the parish, the advertisement, example bags and researching homelessness. These students really took the idea and ran with it … becoming very passionate about the idea of creating change in our community and following Pope Francis’ call to serve the poor.”
Marybeth Hay, a Pre-K4 teacher at OLV, was equally delighted by the response of her students and the enthusiasm of Marilyn F. Willand, the school’s principal. Mr. Kane approached the preschool teacher, who is also a fellow parishioner, in December.
“The opportunity to provide my students with a hands-on activity to live out Pope Francis’ request to help others in this Jubilee Year of Mercy was too good to pass up! This type of activity is exactly what students need … to help them understand, concretely, the difference they can make in the world …,” said Mrs. Hay.
“After the preschool students began collecting, I approached Mrs. Willand and asked her if the whole school could participate as one of our monthly social-justice activities,” she said.
With all OLV students participating, it was decided that the care package items Mr. Kane’s class requested would be collected in exchange for a school “dress down” day- the privilege of not having to wear uniforms.
Mrs. Hay said, “One pair of donated gloves in exchange for a day out of uniform doesn’t seem like much, but when a child understands that those gloves will be used by a man or woman whose hands are freezing, their whole perspective changes. Those gloves become a meaningful possession to someone who needs them.”
Meanwhile, the students in Mr. Kane’s class shared their research with parishioners and collected items and donations. Additionally, they held two gatherings at the church to sort and package the items. Those events were also attended by many parishioners, OLV staff members, students and their families.
“The support and generosity of the community of St. Patrick’s was truly overwhelming. We were able to raise over $2,000 in financial contributions in two weeks, and the in-kind donations were incredible,” said Mr. Kane, who was also amazed by the generosity of the OLV students and staff. He added, “This project is truly blessed by so many generous hands.”
Both teachers have seen the impact the project has had on their students. While Mr. Kane said he believes “that everyone involved has developed a greater understanding of love and mercy for all,” Mrs. Hay said that a student’s words – which brought tears to the teacher’s eyes – helped her to realize how successful this project has been.
Mrs. Hay said, “One of the most significant blessings I observed was when a student came to me and said, ‘Mrs. Hay, these gloves are for a homeless person. Last night, my family all took turns putting them on, and we said a prayer for the person who will get them. We wanted them to know we’re thinking of them.’”