Millie Orton counted off the bright red gift bags lined up on the benches in the cafeteria. “I have eight!” she called out as she skipped off to find eight candy bars to deposit into the bags.
The first-grader at St. Roch School in St. Louis’ West End joined with other students to make gift bags for first responders Feb. 8. St. Roch collaborated with students at St. Margaret of Scotland, South City Catholic Academy and St. Cecilia schools on the service project, which was a part of Catholic Schools Week activities.
“I like doing this because it’s a good help,” said Millie, who was eager to work with her classmates filling the bags with items including hand lotion, granola bars, bottled water, chips and beef jerky. The bags were decorated with hand-colored pictures and encouraging notes.
St. Roch student ambassadors in sixth through eighth grades delivered a first batch of bags to the St. Louis Police Department South Patrol Division and members of the St. Louis Fire Department’s Engine House #31. The other participating schools planned to deliver to first responders elsewhere in St. Louis.
The gift bag activity corresponded with a “community day” theme for Catholic Schools Week, said St. Roch principal Karin Hiatt. An effort was made to connect with first responders serving in the communities where their students live. St. Roch has students from 29 zip codes, Hiatt noted.
“First responders aren’t exactly famous for their jobs, but they need to be,” said sixth-grader Peter McGroarty. “They’re out there doing good community service. They don’t get as much publicity as they should. So it’s nice to give back.”
Sixth-grader Paige Ivy’s grandfather served in the U.S. Air Force, so she knows firsthand how people working on the front lines — whether abroad in the military or our local community — make sacrifices for our safety. “They deserve more credit than they get,” she said. “They’ve helped us and they’ve done everything they can for our community so we can have a better environment.”
Police officers at the South Patrol Division were pleasantly surprised with the delivery of goodies. Officers took photos with students and shared their thanks for the gifts. “You guys are the best — thank you very much,” said Lt. Sean Reape, who visited with students.
The service activity was one of many that St. Roch and other Catholic schools participate in throughout the school year. St. Roch students also have held collections for area food pantries — including during Advent and Lent — and made blessing bags filled with necessities for homeless individuals in recent years.
Some of those service activities give students a real-life look at serving others in need, which fits in well with several themes of Catholic social teaching. “For them to see I can do this and be able to give it to a person in need” makes a difference, said kindergarten teacher Mary Ann Duffy.
National Catholic Schools Week is typically held the last week of January. Because of school cancellations due to winter weather, many Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Louis postponed some activities to the following week. Schools typically observe the week with Masses, assemblies and other activities for students, families, parishioners and community members to celebrate and congratulate the great work and good news of Catholic schools.