May 4, 2017
ORLANDO |Nine Brevard County Catholic schools and six Volusia County Catholic schools breathed life into a new Lenten service project called Gifts of Mercy. The name “Gifts of Mercy” sprung out of the schools’ focus on the “Year of Mercy” as declared by Pope Francis. Each year, Brevard and Volusia County Catholic schools work together on a collaborative service project with a different focus. Gifts of Mercy is unique in that collectively, over a dozen charities were served by the school and parish communities in each county.
This school year, all Catholic schools throughout the Diocese have placed the “Year of Mercy” at the heart of their outreach and daily living. Gifts of Mercy involved the thoughtful planning and focus on specific charitable organizations’ needs by creating and obtaining items that filled Gifts of Mercy bags to give hope and help to others. Many organizations including shelters, nursing homes, and food pantries benefited from receiving clothing, food, toiletries, hand written letters and prayer cards, as well as pet food, pet toys, and bedding, Easter goodie bags, books, baby wipes, baby shampoo, rattles, clothes, pacifiers, and much more. Each school chose at least one charity or organization to support and many schools supported multiple organizations.
On April 5-7 students were involved with the entire process of securing and making items for the bags, filling the bags, and presenting them to their chosen organization or charity. In some cases, students spent time with the clients of recipient organizations such as the elderly at assisted living centers. Countless large and small gestures of kindness were demonstrated by students in every grade starting in Pre-K and all the way up to our high school seniors.
Claudia Stokes, Principal of St. Joseph Catholic School, said, “The coordinator could not be present when we presented the Gifts of Mercy bags to the Saint Vincent de Paul Society. When she went to the room where we stored the items for delivery, she texted me, “I am standing in the middle of the room in tears. Thank you for all the school does for the homeless in our area!” Then later she texted me, “I am crying again; there are notes in the bags!” She had found the prayer cards that we stuffed in the bags for the recipients
St. Joseph Catholic School student council president Kathryn Johnson said, “It meant a lot to me that our school would be helping many of the homeless in Palm Bay. I was honored to be a part of such an amazing project in which many people benefited from our assistance.
Joseph Stokes, St. Joseph Catholic School student council Vice President, reflected on his school’s Gifts of Mercy Service Project saying, “One of the notable moments I remember was the day we were packing the bags. We filled all the bags up that we could and we still had a lot of items left over. That made me feel good because it means our school really cares about taking care of the homeless.”
Gifts of Mercy is expected become an annual Lenten Service Project for both Brevard and Volusia County Catholic Schools. The beautiful collaboration and involvement from thousands of students, families, and parishioners, makes an impact that is far reaching and focuses the Catholic school communities on bringing help and hope to others in need.