Cathedral-St. Mary’s youth group wins bishop’s food drive

CHARLESTON—The bishop’s annual food drive could not have come at a better time for some pantries, whose shelves were completely empty.

A total of 24 youth groups participated in the stewardship effort and collected an impressive 40,000 pounds of food.

Top achievers were from the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist-St. Mary of the Annunciation Church in Charleston, with 5,501 pounds of staples.

In the small youth group category, Divine Redeemer in Hanahan topped the scale with 3,738 pounds.

The Cathedral-St. Mary had 47 participants divided into junior high and high school groups. They had so much food they didn’t have room to store it all.

“We still have food coming in,” said Marie Donnelly, youth group director.

Their approach was simple: They created flyers, attached them to brown paper bags donated by a local grocery store, and passed them out after Mass, Donnelly said. The youth were also responsible for bringing in their own bag of food that they either purchased or put together themselves from their pantry. In other words, it wasn’t something mom and dad did for them.

“These kids worked,” she said. “It was lovely to see.”

Originally, all the food was earmarked for their St. Vincent de Paul group, but when the teens realized how much they had coming  in, they asked who else could benefit.

The answer was Neighborhood House, which ended up with 1,000 pounds of the food.

Nikki Grimball, director, said their shelves weren’t bare, but are more depleted than normal, and receiving large donations like that really helps with expenses.

Not only does Neighborhood House run a daily lunch program, but they also pack monthly bags for families, so the food goes pretty quick.

Grimball said it’s also great to see the youth involved with their communities and learning about who they’re helping.

Each youth group gave the food they collected to a local charity of their choice.

Divine Redeemer wanted to help someone close to home because they know how great the need is, said Ellen Tsakanikas, who leads the youth group with her husband Nick.

“Father [Edward W. Fitzgerald] is constantly praying for those who are out of work,” she said. “We called Echo House and actually their pantry was bare, so we filled their shelves back up.”

Tsakanikas noted that their small youth group had only four girls participate in the food drive. They gave a flyer to all the parishioners, but she said most of their collection came from “one Secret Santa.”

As the top winners, the Cathedral-St. Mary will be treated to dinner with Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone.

Several adults said they were surprised by how hyper-excited the teens were about the dinner prize. Erica Rowley, outreach assistant at Neighborhood House, said her son, Brooks, was determined to gather more food than anyone else.

“He’s over the moon with that prize,” she said. “It’s great that [dinner with the bishop] was the incentive.”