By Beth Donze, Kids’ Clarion
Ham and cheese fly into slices of bread inside the St. Angela Merici’s parish center kitchen every Wednesday morning, thanks to some willing and able young hands.
On that day, rotating groups of seventh graders from St. Angela Merici School’s Young Vincentians group report a half-hour before the morning bell to make 120 breakfast sandwiches for delivery by St. Angela’s adult St. Vincent de Paul conference to homeless and hungry guests at the Rebuild Center at St. Joseph Church on Tulane Avenue.
Their work is completed in about 20 minutes, with the added timesaver of not having to spread condiments on the bread (mayonnaise and mustard are provided at the Rebuild Center).
The students perform their labor of love every Wednesday, regardless of whether or not school is in session.
“They’re very enthusiastic. I think they enjoy doing it and they have a whole lot of fun just talking around the table, talking about their day,” noted Ed Mazoue, who watches over the Wednesday morning helpers with Caress Roberts, his fellow adult Vincentian.
Seventh grader Isabella Sachitano said she couldn’t wait to join the sandwich crew after seeing last year’s seventh graders doing the project.
“I imagine the smiles on people’s faces when they get sandwiches,” Isabella said, noting that instead of being overwhelmed by the hunger problem and doing nothing, everyone can do a tiny bit to help every week.
“I think of people who are hungry finally getting food,” said seventh grader Garrett Kelley. “Even the smallest thing can help people. You can make people happy if you just try.”
Because the cost of sandwich supplies is defrayed by a service-learning grant from the Joe and Dorothy Dorsett Brown Foundation, the seventh graders also study the issues of hunger and homelessness in their St. Angela classrooms. In math, they learn about budgeting, comparing the prices of sandwich items sold at various grocery stores. In religion, they learn about local hunger and homelessness and write reflection papers.
St. Angela’s seventh-grade teachers – Wanda Salzer and Kathy Hurd – take their students on class trips to St. Jude Community Center, where they serve food directly to the hungry; Second Harvest Food Bank, which offers a teaching unit on hunger and recruits visitors to sort food at its Harahan headquarters; and the Rebuild Center, a daytime shelter that offers not only meals, but showers, laundry facilities, medical services and even art time to the street-weary of New Orleans.
“At first they were a little intimidated (serving the homeless at St. Jude), but then they realized that they’re just people who are a little down on their luck and need a helping hand,” Salzer said, recalling how last year’s seventh graders got to share in a guest’s joy at finally moving into an apartment after months on the street.
“It seems a little bit scary at first, but the kids wind up loving it and getting so much out of it,” Salzer said. “They realize that people who are homeless are not bad people; they’re just regular people who need help.”
Hurd said her students have “the joy of helping others” – even those they might not expect to serve, such as one hungry guest who said he was a graduate of a Catholic school in Metairie.
“It’s an eye-opener for the kids,” Hurd said. “They were asking us, ‘When can we do this again?’ We tell them they don’t always have to volunteer with their school; they can go on their own, with their parents, or they can get a group of friends to help one Saturday, instead of going to the movies.”