Dec 252014

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

WASHINGTON — As a first-year youth director, Mary Sue Marek of St. James Parish says she is constantly looking for opportunities to teach Christian values in new and exciting ways.
On Dec. 7, she sent a group of students from the parish’s Knight Life high school group on a scavenger hunt. She didn’t ask them to scour the neighborhood for four-leaf clovers or feathers, however. She sent the teenagers to parishioners’ homes in search of food and other necessities to donate to families in need.

Jessica and Owen, members of St. James Knight Life, decorate a Christmas tree at St. James Parish in Washington using food items collected during a service project. The items were donated to Hawkeye Area Community Action Program’s holiday harvest boxes, which provide food and other essentials to area families in need.

“I thought it was a neat idea,” Marek said. In planning the event, she contacted local nonprofit Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP) to get an idea of which items were most needed this time of year. She was familiar with the agency’s food drive program, but was surprised and interested to learn that HACAP also makes harvest baskets to distribute as a boost for families in need. She asked what items were needed for those baskets and was told food, dish soap and diapers topped the list.

On the day of the scavenger hunt, Marek separated the 12 participating teens into groups and let them know which items to ask for. She provided them with a list of addresses to try, so that they wouldn’t be approaching strangers or parishioners who themselves are in need.

The students had an hour to complete the task and returned with about 150 items to donate. “People were so generous! Some people just emptied out their pantries. We even got a huge jug of laundry detergent from one parishioner and a huge (bundle) of toilet paper and paper towels (from another).”

After returning to St. James Parish, the students decorated a Christmas tree using some of the lighter food items as ornaments. Other foods and goods were placed under the tree. A few days later, HACAP picked up the items for distribution.

Knight Life member Kaylee said she had fun gathering food for those in need. “It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” she said.

Marek said St. James Parish requests that its ninth- and 10th-graders perform at least 10 hours of community service before receiving the sacrament of confirmation. The service project offered them a chance to check off a few of those hours. “They don’t have to reinvent the wheel” when it comes to earning service hours. “They can just join in with the group,” Marek said.

Parish pastor Father Bernie Weir expressed pride in what the students accomplished. “Our kids are doing a wonderful job of living the Christian life!”

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