Catholic Schools Day of Service sees kids helping sick kids feel loved

By EmmaLee Italia/Correspondent

GIVING HEARTS • Students representing Catholic schools across Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties gathered in front of the diocesan Chancery April 30 after a news conference and blessing by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., of more than 10,000 items and another $9,000 in cash and gift cards collected for sick children in area hospitals. Photo courtesy of Craig Pittelli

Thanks to the combined efforts of the 31 Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Trenton, children being treated in area hospitals will know a little more comfort and peace.

“It wasn’t an assignment to us – it was something we wanted to do,” said Alex Feuer, eighth-grader in St. Veronica School, Howell, one of thousands of students to take part in the annual diocesan Catholic Schools Day of Service campaign.

For the first time, the project saw all of the Diocese’s elementary schools work to a common goal – reaching out to children in area hospitals, as well as their parents and caregivers.

Themed “Hearts to Hospitals: Hearts to Lead – Hands to Help,” the multi-week effort culminated April 30 with a news conference and gathering of students, school and hospital representatives at the diocesan Chancery, Lawrenceville, where Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., blessed the gifts and monies collected across Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties.

Though some donations were still trickling in, the totals exceeded 10,000 toys, books, crafts and games, and more than $13,000 in gift cards for convenience stores, restaurants, grocery stores and more.

“Can you imagine how this is going make [the children] feel, that ‘somebody who doesn’t know me loves me enough to go out and collect and send us gifts,’” Bishop O’Connell said. “It’s such a beautiful thing – I’m so proud of you, as I always am of our Catholic schools.”

Recalling being in the hospital as a seventh-grader, Bishop O’Connell told the students how he felt scared and alone, wanting nothing more than to leave or have someone reassure him that everything would be all right.

He praised students’ efforts, reminding them that the sick were especially dear to Jesus himself.

“How many times in Jesus’ life did he stop and talk to a sick person … reach out and touch a sick person, give a sick person a hug? – and then he healed them!” the Bishop said. “As Catholic school students, it’s great to see that what was important to Jesus is important to you, and that you’re making a real difference in their lives. … I hope that you’ll continue to serve other people, because that’s the most important thing – the Lord gave us the commandment, to love God, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

“You’re reaching out and touching all these young people, giving them a big hug, and saying, ‘It’s going to be all right. We love you, and here are some things for you as a sign of our love.’”

He continued, “So keep working hard, keep studying hard, keep praying hard, keep being a good Catholic, because this is a sign of what that means.”

ABUNDANT BLESSINGS • Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., blesses some of the many baskets and bins that held thousands of items collected by the Diocese’s Catholic school students for hospitalized children and their families. Photo courtesy of Craig Pittelli

Kids Helping Kids

The collection effort for “Hearts to Hospitals” began March 22 with students enlisting support from their schools, families, parishes and local businesses. On the official Day of Service, April 27, students in all schools assembled the donations into gift bags for patients. Candy and goodie bags were also collected and assembled for hospital staff who work with the children, and handmade cards from students were addressed to hospital employees, medical personnel, families and patients.

First grader-Skylar Isacson of Holy Innocents School, Neptune, wanted to help with the project “because I wanted to give to the kids in the hospital so they can have something to take their minds off being sick.”

Added her seventh-grade sister, Savannah, “It’s really fun to give back and to know that you’re making a difference.”

Erin Evanowski, a preschooler in St. Rose Grammar School, Belmar, said, “I like helping people, and it’s a good thing to do. I have been to the hospital to see my uncle, and he felt so much better when he was out.”

Marissa Terrell, a third-grader in St. Mary of the Lakes School, Medford, wanted to participate because she empathized with children under medical care. “When I was in the hospital, I thought I would never recover. I got a toy there, and it made me feel better.”

Hospital representatives were effusive with praise and gratitude for the schools’ efforts.

“What you fill your cup with renders a warmer, colder, fuller or emptier you – and this spills out over into the world,” said Michele Czechowski, program director of Trinity/St. Francis CARES Program, Trenton – an outreach program for children at risk for behavioral, emotional and developmental problems. “By your work today, you imprint our children with joy and hope – you fill their cup.”

Addressing the students at the news conference, Judy Nicastro, diocesan associate director of school services, said, “You guys have not only met expectations, you’ve exceeded them. “What I really hope is that … you understand how important your collective project was.”

Creative Campaigns

During the collection period, students exercised a variety of methods to get their school and parish communities involved. In St. Peter School, Point Pleasant Beach, coordinator Lynn Faugno explained that in addition to the more than 1,000 items collected, the Knights of Columbus gave a monetary donation, and students raised more than $3,000 by canning – standing outside their cohort parishes with a bucket asking for donations.

“The generosity was overwhelming,” Faugno said.

In Our Lady of Sorrows School, Hamilton, principal Maureen Tuohy explained how in years’ past, each school held its own service project.

“This is much more than just a school event; this year, I felt much more community. I know we made an impact last year, but this? This should make a huge impact,” she said, adding that the items collected exceeded the bags the school was given to fill.

She said the school took the “Hearts to Hospitals” theme to heart, with students praying for the sick children and discussing what it was like to be in a hospital.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Asbury Park, and St. Rose of Lima School, Freehold, combined efforts by hosting a volleyball tournament.  Each school donated proceeds and on April 21, team members and adults purchased items for the kids in the hospital.  Five teams of two – one player from each school – were each given $130 to spend and were tasked with picking out items totaling $130 without using a calculator.

“The kids really took their time deciding what they would want if they were in the hospital,” said Katie O’Meara, OLMC fourth-grade teacher and fundraiser contact. “Most importantly, they worked together as a team even though they never met [off the court].

“They had a contest to see how close they could get to $130 without going over,” O’Meara continued. “It was cute – they were all cheering for each other at the checkout line.”


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