Ruth Goldkamp carefully measured ingredients with a group making apricot oatmeal bars one morning at Saint Louis University’s Campus Kitchen. The apricots were recently picked from a small orchard of fruit trees on SLU’s campus.
The dessert was to be delivered alongside meals to residents of Father Dempsey’s Charities, Council Towers and Metropolitan Village. But the group’s work wasn’t just about making meals for others in need. Embedded in that was a discussion about food insecurity and equitable distribution of food resources.
While the food was intended for physical nourishment, Ruth also saw the spiritual nourishment that was happening, too.
“Jesus is guiding the way and paving the way for us to do this service,” said Ruth, a parishioner at St. Francis Xavier “College” Church and an incoming freshman at Cor Jesu Academy. “Looking around and seeing Jesus’ face on everyone — that’s a really cool thing to see.”
Ruth was among a dozen teens entering sixth through ninth grades who participated in a Social Justice Camp hosted by St. Francis Xavier June 28-July 2. They learned about social justice issues through the lens of the tenets of Catholic social teaching. They also saw firsthand the needs that exist in the community, through onsite visits and hands-on service to others. Through discussions, art and journaling, the campers also discussed solutions to the injustices they witnessed.
Campers toured the Ville neighborhood of St. Louis with 4TheVille, learning more about the historic African-American neighborhood; they also heard a presentation on the life and work of the late Sister Mary Antona Ebo, a Franciscan Sister of Mary who was instrumental in the civil rights movement and her longtime ministry in health care; and a visit to Mary Ryder Home, a residential care facility for low-income senior women.
St. Francis Xavier parishioner Lisa Burks, who served as one of the camp directors, said she hoped that teens, through the experiences they had at camp, learned to look at the justice in a different way. “We’ve talked about if you look at things from a different perspective, then maybe you can come up with new solutions,” she said. “We’re helping them to see that they have gifts that they can use to positively impact the community.”
The Church’s social teaching tenet of solidarity also one that was discussed throughout the week. “It’s about being with people,” Burks said. “It’s not just people with more resources giving to people with fewer resources.” For example, during the tour of the Ville neighborhood, the teens learned about the resources developed within that community to make a positive impact there.
Robbie Winter, a St. Francis Xavier parishioner and incoming freshman a Kirkwood High School, said the camp was a way for him to learn more about social justice issues through the lens of the Church. “Social justice to me is everyone getting what they need, and sometimes its everyone getting the same thing — sometimes its equality, and sometimes its equity,” he said. “But it’s also just about helping people. I wanted to help people.”
Diving deeper into the topics of poverty and homelessness was one of the biggest takeaways for Zora Weeden-Smith, a rising sixth grader at The College School in Webster Groves and a St. Francis Xavier parishioner. “I hope I gain more knowledge and that we can make a difference here,” she said. “I hope we can help others and we can all have some fun, too.”