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Catholic Schools Week project delivers sweet treats to homeless shelters

Students at Holy Cross School, Bay Settlement — dressed in spirit wear in celebration of Catholic Schools Week — prepare to begin the process of filling snack bags for St. John’s Ministries on Jan. 29 in the school gym. (Holy Cross School Photo | For On Mission)

By Jeff Kurowski | On Mission

BAY SETTLEMENT — “Catholic Schools: United in Faith and Community” served as the national theme for Catholic Schools Week 2024 (Jan. 28-Feb. 3). Embracing the motto, students, families, faculty and staff at Holy Cross School kicked off the week with outreach for those in need in the community.

On Monday, Jan. 29, more than 1,000 bags of snack mix were filled in the school gym in less than an hour. The snack bags were delivered to the men’s and women’s shelters of St. John’s Ministries in Green Bay. 

The service project developed after a guest presentation at the school in October by Jesse Brunette, executive director of St. John’s Ministries. He spoke about the homeless with the fifth- through eighth-grade students.

“I really appreciated it when he spoke to our older students because they understood that it’s a reality and that there are ways they can help and be empathetic,” said Jillian Amezquita, fifth-grade teacher and one of the project organizers.

“I remember that (Brunette) told us that he always wanted to help people because, no matter what circumstances they are in, they should be treated the same — with respect and kindness,” said seventh-grade student Addie Peterson. “The Beatitudes tell us to take care of people. Everyone deserves love and respect because that’s what Christ would have wanted.”

Amezquita said that during his talk, Brunette mentioned that guests at the St. John’s shelters enjoy snack mixes, so the seed was planted for the Catholic Schools Week project. 

Eighth-grader Brady Hannon, left, fills a snack bag held by kindergarten student Jesse Ortega Alvarado on Jan. 29 at Holy Cross School, Bay Settlement. The Holy Cross School community produced and donated more than 1,000 snack bags to the homeless shelters of St. John’s Ministries in Green Bay for a Catholic Schools Week project. (Holy Cross School Photo | For On Mission)

Families donated the ingredients. Nuts were left out of the mix due to dental health and allergy concerns. Labels were adhered to each bag, with the list of ingredients and a special message from Scripture: “God saw all that he made and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Each student at Holy Cross is paired with a buddy for the school year. For example, eighth-grade students are matched with kindergarteners. The pre-K students work with the fifth graders, the oldest students on the elementary wing of the school.

“They have an older and younger buddy. They get to work together,” said Amezquita. “It’s really cute. My fifth-graders had the preschoolers put on the labels and they helped them scoop.”

“That’s a big responsibility and we talk about that,” added Amezquita about the older students serving as mentors. “Most of their preschool buddies have never been to school before, so to have the oldest kid on the wing greeting them every day is special. We take the (preschool students) to Mass on Fridays and do different projects with them.”

Seventh-grader Peterson said that she did various jobs to assemble the snack bags, including taking air out to fit in more of the mix and collecting the finished product.

“It makes you feel good that, even though you’re young, you can help out,” she said. “We were able to make snacks for those who aren’t as blessed as us. I’m proud to be part of this school. It’s always a place of welcome and open arms.”

Fun and entertainment, including a planetarium show and silent disco glow dance, were also among the Catholic Schools Week activities at Holy Cross. 

Prayer was a part of the week, with an all-school rosary service and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Norbertine Fr. Johnathan Turba, vocation director at St. Norbert Abbey, De Pere, visited the school on Thursday, Feb. 1, for “Celebrating Vocations.” Students also made cards for religious leaders that day.

In addition to the shelter project, Holy Cross selected three local organizations for “Lighting Up the Community” during Catholic Schools Week. School families were encouraged to make donations to Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay, Special Olympics Wisconsin and Golden House, which provides safety and shelter for victims of domestic abuse in Green Bay.

While filling the snack mix bags, Amezquita said some students commented about how good they looked.

“I told them, ‘I’m glad you’re giving something you want yourself. You know it’s delicious and you’re excited that they get to have it,’” she said. “We wanted to give them something they could enjoy, (a supply) that will last awhile and give them sustenance.” 

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