High school students in the Diocese of Orlando gave back to their communities with more than 110,000 volunteer hours during the 2014-2015 school year. Service is so important at Catholic schools that one in particular chose to observe their anniversary with the theme of giving.
St. Joseph Catholic School in Winter Haven organized a “60 Days of Giving Campaign” in honor of their 60th anniversary. Students devoted time and energy to collecting and sorting food items such as tuna, spaghetti sauce, and beef stew. By the end of the campaign (Thanksgiving Day) the school collected 4,810 items which served more than 40,000 people.
“This project provided our students and families with an opportunity to consider those in our community who are less fortunate. 60 Days of Giving helped children to remember that when we are helping the least, we are serving the Lord,” said John Reilly, Assistant Principal of St. Joseph Catholic School.
Statistics show there is a great need for this type of outreach. According to the Brookings Institute, Polk County has the fifth-highest rate of suburban poverty in the nation. The U.S. Census bureau estimates the number of families living below the poverty line is at 18.2%. Learning about the need, motivated the school community to give generously.
The seventh grade class collected the most items throughout the campaign, bringing in food consistently every week throughout the 60 days.
“I personally brought in approximately 250 servings of food throughout the project,” said 7th grader Nicholas. “During the food drive, what kept me giving was thinking, ‘what if I was the one who was receiving the food?’ It made me want to keep giving food because life can throw a curveball and now you’re on the street. It made me feel good to be donating to someone less fortunate than me.”
In addition to the food drive, teachers incorporated the theme into their curriculum by teaching about Catholic ideals on social justice. Teachers incorporated these principles into their daily lesson plans. Also, each grade level calculated the number of servings they collected each week as part of their math lessons. Different groups such as the Student Service Council and National Junior Honor Society took turns collecting the items and delivering them to the Catholic Charities of Central Florida food pantry which is located across the street from their school.
The students of St. Joseph say this activity strengthened their Catholic faith by being generous and giving to the less fortunate. It gives them hope that by their example, other students will also be willing to show compassion and mercy to those in need.