Sixth-grader’s food drive yields veritable bounty

Provided Matthew Yanachik and his father, Mark, stand next to a van full of food that the 12-year-old collected for people in need. The sixth-grader attends St. Gregory the Great in Bluffton.

BLUFFTON—Even before schools and businesses were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 12-year-old Matthew Yanachik was nurturing the idea of holding a food drive. 

The outreach was something he had been planning and hoping to do since Christmas, when his father, Mark, told him that March is a time when much of the food donated around the holidays runs out for those in need. 

Matthew, a sixth-grader at St. Gregory the Great School, planned the drive for March 16. Unfortunately, that was the same week schools closed across the state.  

That didn’t stop Matthew. As word spread that people were losing their jobs, he realized it was an opportune time to give back, especially with food. 

Matthew and his father regrouped, made adjustments for social distancing and planned the food drive for Palm Sunday, April 5. 

“It was easy,” Mark explained. “People just drove up and dropped their food off on the sidewalk. We arranged the food in piles under our tent. We wore gloves and masks. It worked out quite well.”

Indeed. It yielded three vans full of donations from an estimated 50 cars. 

The bounty was driven straight to the Mercy Mission in Hardeeville, and to The St. Francis Center on St. Helena Island, an outreach operated by the Sisters of Sts. Cyril and Methodius.  

But Matthew wanted to do more, so he and his father took to social media and planned another food drive. It was originally slated for April 19, but due to severe storms, they rescheduled for April 26. 

“We had another awesome turnout, but this time it was more than double what we did on April 5,” Mark reported. “We had over 200 cars come through. We filled two vans, one SUV and two cars full of food — and I mean full. We couldn’t see out the windows!” 

“Matthew is helping to collect food for people who are struggling with their income, who may have lost their jobs or wages, who do not have enough food in their pantries to put on their tables, and who just need a helping hand in these most difficult times. In Catholic education, it is certainly learning about your faith and academics, but it also learning about the service we can provide to others to build up the Kingdom of God,” shared Christopher Trott, principal of St. Gregory the Great. 

A special treat given out at the second food drive was bars of soap made by the sixth-graders before school closures began. 

“St. Gregory the Great School is STEM certified [and] a grant-funded project this year had sixth-graders making soap from natural materials and scents,” said Barbara Pittman, who coordinates the school’s STEM program. “An added feature was an antigen, Path-Away, provided by parishioner Dr. Art Martin. Path-Away has been proven to kill viral respiratory infections.” 

Pittman made sure that 250 bars of soap were produced and carefully packaged with the school logo in time for the April 26 food drive. They became the “thank you” to those who donated.

Matthew may don his Star Wars mask — handmade by his mother —at the next food drive, but there isn’t a date planned yet. 

“It took just a few hours on a beautiful Sunday afternoon to help a lot of people, so we would love to do another one, but no concrete plans right now,” Mark said. 

“We have to trust in God. This is all a part of His plan. Don’t lose sight of Him,” Matthew concluded.

Sister Pamela Smith, director of the diocesan office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, contributed to this report.