Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Aug
  • 26

Backpacks for Haiti

Posted By August 26, 2011 | 12:18 pm | Lead Story #1, Local
Backpacks for Haiti

By Tanya Connor

Olivia Willis of Berlin will likely take foreign students with her to her new school next week. She also hopes to leave some behind in her old school.
The fifth-grader, who has spent her money, time and energy on these students, doesn’t even know them.
They are in Haiti. She filled 36 backpacks of school supplies, hygiene items and toys for them.
Those backpacks are among 302 being driven this week from Worcester to Florida, then shipped to Haiti, said Sister Marie-Judith Dupuy, a Sister of St. Anne who directs the diocesan Haitian Apostolate. She plans to go to Haiti in a couple weeks to deliver them to students sponsored through the apostolate, and give the extras to other students.
“I really thank the benefactors for their big effort,” she said Tuesday, marveling that in the bad economy she got more backpacks than in previous years.
“I wanted to say ‘thank you’ to Prince of Peace Church” in Princeton, she said. She and Father James J. Caldarella, pastor, said the parish gave backpacks for the eight students their seventh-through-10th-graders sponsor and extra school supplies. The younger parishioners contribute the backpacks and supplies, the pastor said.
Theresa Nummelin, religious education coordinator at St. Columba Parish in Paxton, brought four backpacks to Sister Judith’s Chancery office Monday – three for their sponsored students and an extra one. She said her elementary school religious education students run coffee shops after Masses to pay for tuition, and parishioners donate backpacks and supplies.
A school project got Olivia started. She and her parents, Michael and Julie Willis, tell it this way.
After the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, students at St. Bernadette Elementary School in Northborough, where Olivia was a third-grader, made and sold pins to raise money for Catholic Relief Services’ aid to victims.
“I gave my donation and then the school stopped selling them,” Olivia said. She did chores and pet-sitting to make more money, and for Christmas asked for donations for Haiti instead of presents, she said.
“Rather than just giving her money, we decided to sponsor a child for her,” her mother said. She and her husband had heard someone speak about the apostolate’s sponsorship program at their church, St. Joseph the Good Provider in Berlin.
“I was really happy,” Olivia said. In February, she received a photo of her student – Michele Sterline, a third-grader at St. Anne School in Chardonnieres – and “Michele colored a picture for me,” she said.
“This was perfect, because it made it tangible and personal,” Mrs. Willis said.
Olivia said this was the first time she heard about the diocesan apostolate. Before that she and her father had researched how to send clothes and shoes to Haiti. She decided to give the Haitian Apostolate the money she earned or received, and learned Sister Judith was seeking backpacks and supplies.
In March she wrote to St. Bernadette’s principal, Deborah O’Neil.
“My friends and I would like to help the children in Haiti,” she wrote, telling about their desire to sponsor students, and suggesting ways St. Bernadette’s could help: with a dress-down day, backpack drive, financial donations or sale of small items.
Collaborating with her on this were fourth-grade classmates Kaitlyn Macdonald, Caroline Lambert, Samantha Brody, Margaret Tobin, Rachel Wilson, Meghan Brooks and Delia Delorie, she said, and Katie Regis came later.
Mrs. O’Neill suggested they do something for the school’s Arts Night in April and their teacher Lynne Holmes became their faculty adviser.
Caroline’s father, Phil Lambert, ordered red and blue bracelets, the colors of Haiti’s flag. By the end of the school year, almost everyone at St. Bernadette’s was wearing them, Olivia said.
Samantha’s grandmother made bird houses, including one depicting Haiti’s flag,
“We gave that to Mrs. Holmes, thanking her for all her help,” Olivia said.
Others also made items to sell. Art teacher Peg Lien helped them make a poster for Arts Night, at which they made $488, Olivia said.
“After the Arts Night, I was trying to say, ‘You’re done,’” Mr. Willis said. “But Olivia had bigger plans.”
The youngster said that by the end of the school year, she and her friends had raised $725. They used $125 to sponsor a student in Mrs. Holmes’ name, to thank her, and she agreed to keep up the sponsorship.
“The good thing is, it’s not that much money – compared to tuition in America,” Olivia said.
They gave the Haitian Apostolate $600, which Sister Judith said she’d use for shipping and more supplies.
Olivia said people donated new and used backpacks, and she earned $200 to buy supplies.
“It was so fun going shopping,” she said.
Mr. Willis praised the apostolate as “a great way to get stuff to Haiti.”     Mrs. Willis said she wasn’t surprised by her daughter’s efforts, “she’s always been very generous, very compassionate.” And, she said that Sister Judith was helpful.
This fall Olivia enters fifth grade at Florence Sawyer School in Bolton. (Mrs. Willis said that Olivia’s older brother and sister are in the Bolton school system. They entered a lottery to get her into that system. An opening came up this year.)
Olivia said she might ask her new principal about doing something for Haiti, and added, “There’s no reason to say ‘no.’” She said she also hoped to talk with a teacher there who’s done things for Haiti.
Kindergarten teacher Carolyn Schmidt said she had Florence Sawyer students collecting clothes after the earthquake, but stopped because of high shipping costs. She has talked with Sr. Judith about getting things to Haiti.
With Olivia coming, she likely will.
“I’m going to probably do another backpack drive,” the youngster said. “I’ve already started to raise money; my birthday was in August.”
She said she thinks her friends at St. Bernadette’s will keep working with Mrs. Holmes too.
“I feel it’s really important to do all this work,” she said.
Someday she hopes to visit Haiti.