At Immaculate Conception School in Marrero, students have come to realize that when they work together as a team, they can impact hundreds of lives by giving just 30 minutes of their time.
One Saturday morning each month, tables in the school cafeteria become a bustling assembly line in which 300 ham and cheese sandwiches are made for individuals seeking shelter at Ozanam Inn.
The fast-working crew – Immaculate Conception’s Builders’ Club of 65 seventh and eighth graders – makes 150 ready-to-eat meals during each monthly session, packing brown bags with two sandwiches, a fruit cup and a crunchy snack, such as Cheez-Its.
“I really didn’t do much service before. I thought this was a good way to help others instead of just helping myself,” said eighth grader David Pina, noting that the monthly volunteer effort gives structure to his good works – and prevents them from merely remaining “good intentions.”
David said his parents are big supporters of his service work, especially his mother, who takes food to homeless individuals who live under the Crescent City Connection. The eighth grader said he is moved when he hears stories of how the homeless, who have so little, share their rations of food with those in similar circumstances.
“I hope that everyone that we make sandwiches for gets two sandwiches, or at least one,” David said.
Eighth grader Eliana Casas said she tunes out all distractions and feels Christ guiding her as she prepares the monthly bagged meals.
“It reminds me of (the Gospel of) the Loaves and the Fishes, where Jesus feeds thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and two fish,” Eliana said. “With just a little bread and ham we can feed hundreds of people,” Eliana marveled. “It is something simple that we can do, but it means so much to the people who get sandwiches.”
The Builders’ Club has been making the dinner bags for four years with the assistance of a service-learning grant from the Joe and Dorothy Dorsett Brown Foundation. In addition to the monthly meals, the club collects three items that are always in high demand at Ozanam Inn: socks, underwear and blankets.
“We talk a lot about social justice in class,” said Heather Vu, Immaculate Conception’s seventh- and eighth-grade religion teacher and a co-moderator of the Builders Club with school parent Sarah Cuartas. “A lot of people think (the homeless) are homeless by choice, but they know it is often more complicated than that.”
Builders Club members also visit St. Luke’s Living Center in Algiers and raised $550 through the sale of glow sticks at Immaculate Conception’s Family Fun Night and desserts at a Kiwanis Club bake sale to buy gift cards and groceries for the needy last Advent.
Still, Vu sees the sandwich-making, a corporal work of mercy, as the cornerstone of the club’s service dimension. Students sacrifice sleeping in on a Saturday, yet always arrive at the cafeteria smiling and ready to roll, she said.
“They make 300 sandwiches in 30 minutes,” Vu said. “It’s pretty amazing!”