By KATHY SCHMUGGE
COLUMBIA — Activities planned on Ash Wednesday at Cardinal Newman High School did more than mark the foreheads of its students; they marked their hearts and the heart of the community by sending 276 young ambassadors of the faith to help the helpless in the capital city.
With a faculty chaperone, middle school students as well as sophomores and seniors loaded into several buses that transported the students to area soup kitchens, nursing homes and shelters. Each place had specific jobs that the youth would be able to complete in four hours. For instance, Oliver Gospel Mission needed 10 students to help with inventory, while another 10 students organized the pantry at the Harvest Hope Food Bank. The largest contingency of students went to Fairfield Community Center where they worked with a police sergeant to “put the place in order.”
The parish and community outreach coordinator for Cardinal Newman, Tony Haughey, a new faculty member, was pleased with how smoothly the service day went. Because he is relatively new to Columbia, he had to get a crash course on the various service organizations in the area and what their specific needs were for March.
Lois Gray, Harvest Hope Food Bank director of product rescue, was very appreciative of the students’ assistance because the bank is always in “desperate need” for volunteers. She asked the students to go through donated food, check expiration dates and lids, and then pack specific food items in boxes for distribution. Gray was glad to see the youth, whom she described as courteous and hard working, and so willing to help.
“It is important for the young who are blessed to see what other families go through to get food. By working in food rescue, the volunteers also become much more appreciative when they see that everyone is not as fortunate as they are,” said Gray.
In this massive volunteer effort, Haughey paired the high school seniors and sophomores with the middle school students so the younger students could have a role model or mentor to follow. It was also part of an effort to unify the middle and high schools. Haughey was encouraged by the positive reactions from his student volunteers who came back invigorated from the day’s work.
“The one thing that our students showed on this day is that Christ dwells in them and that they see Christ in others,” said the service coordinator.
Senior David Nerbun mentioned that he went to Traditions, an elder day care facility with a relatively positive attitude, but was surprised by how fulfilling the experience actually was for him. “I had a great time. It was fun talking to the older people. They just wanted someone to share their experiences with, someone who would listen to them,” said Nerbun, who also had the job of calling out the numbers in a highly competitive game of bingo among the residence. Other tasks at the elder care facilities included decorating and cleaning the recreational areas.
The freshman and junior high students who were not assigned service work that day were busy doing spiritual works at their designated retreats organized by Richard Roach, one of the school’s religion teachers. Although both groups discussed God, the freshman retreat also emphasized friendship whereas the juniors examined the concept of reconciliation.
In this Lenten season, a time to give and give up, the students at Cardinal Newman, through their retreat and service work started their 40 days on the right foot, growing in understanding about the suffering in the world and how they can, with God’s grace, make life a little more bearable for the abandoned, the hungry, and afflicted.