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Vianney student leads his school’s effort to buy toys for children

St. John Vianney High School senior Lucas Menz donated $1,000 from his lawn care business earnings to the Whole Kids Outreach toy drive at Vianney this year. He cut wood at a farm in Sappington for his business on Dec. 12.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
Thousand-dollar donations — the kind that usually come from corporations, successful individuals or large fundraisers — are a charity’s best friend, and often not uncommon.

But $2,000 in donations from a high school student, earned from his summer job? That’s much rarer.

Lucas Menz, a senior at St. John Vianney High School, has made $2,000 in contributions to the annual fundraiser to buy toys for children in need over his four years at Vianney. It’s money he earned through lawn-care jobs.

Vianney students raised almost $7,000 this year for Christmas presents for children served by Whole Kids Outreach, a faith-based, nonprofit service organization meeting health and developmental needs of children, youth, and pregnant women living in poverty in rural Missouri.

Menz said being a good steward is the right thing to do. “I’ve had so much opportunity. It’s my tithing.”

The cause is important, especially this year, because people have lost jobs or been forced to take lower-paying jobs, he said.

Lucas Lawn Care business developed slowly after the summer following Lucas’ sixth-grade year. He began cutting two elderly neighbors’ lawns for $25 apiece. He added a couple more of his own clients, and he earned $10 an hour doing lawn care for a man in the neighborhood. The man folded his business, and Menz used his savings to buy that man’s commercial-grade lawnmower and a small trailer to haul it. That year, at age 15 — with his grandfather serving as his driver — he cut 18 lawns. He added services and the business continued to expand, even this past summer when he thought COVID-19’s impact would mean less business.

Menz’ parents are Queen of All Saints parishioners, but he attends Mary Mother of the Church Parish because he stays with his grandfather to keep him company and because that’s where he keeps his lawn equipment. He’s enjoyed doing service work with that parish.

His parents have sacrificed to provide him an opportunity to attend an outstanding Catholic school, he said, so “for me to put toys under the Christmas tree for some kids just makes me happy.”

Menz credits his parents and Kevin Walsh, a history teacher and basketball coach at Vianney and faculty toy drive chairperson, for influencing his generosity.

Walsh said he’s inspired by the students who take the Advent season seriously and want to help people in need. “Our guys respond year in and year out.”

The response is “everything we teach our boys about being servants and trying to help others, making sure they are paying it forward. Lucas is an outstanding example of that,” Walsh said.

An anonymous donor matched Vianney’s student contributions to purchase almost $14,000 in toys for Whole Kids Outreach.

Connie Lanaghan, development director of Whole Kids Outreach, said its Christmas toy store is open five days this year because of increased need. Parents who take part volunteer in the community for an hour to earn a voucher to pick out three toys for each of their children. About three-fourths of the parents state that these are the only gifts they can provide their children, Lanaghan said.

The donation from Vianney will purchase toys for about 250 children. Lanaghan said Menz is “just the embodiment of the Vianney gentlemen. These guys are great. It’s especially needed this year because we’ve had so many more calls.”

Many of the toys and contributions for the Christmas store come from the St. Louis area, especially the Catholic grade schools and high schools in the Archdiocese of St. Louis as well as Saint Louis University. Lanaghan listed 10 schools ranging from St. Gabriel in St. Louis to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in Ferguson and Immaculate Conception in Dardenne Prairie. The Knights of Columbus, the Council of Catholic Women and others also contribute.

Menz, when asked what toy was his favorite when he was a child, didn’t hesitate to answer: A lawn mower, “the kind that you push and it pops.”

>> Help for families

Whole Kids Outreach based in Ellington, Missouri, provides help for families, including in-home nursing services and outreach to pregnant women and moms with children under the age of 3. It serves seven counties in rural southeast Missouri, where the average yearly income for a family of four helped by the faith-based ministry is $15,500.

The average distance to a health care facility (outside Butler County) is more 60 miles, in a region with no public transportation. Pregnant women and teens who participate in the outreach’s home visiting programs have a rate of pre-term births of nearly two for every 100. That’s in a region where the usual rate is 15 for every 100 live births.

Since starting in 1999, the outreach has served more than 2,000 families and 16,000 children. Besides home visits, it sponsors a summer day camp, the Christmas Store, horseback riding, seasonal family festivals and more.

Sister Ann Francione, SSND, a former Catholic school teacher in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, began the ministry after her community asked her to reach out to sick babies in the region. A study of the needs in the area by Saint Louis University School of Public Health and a grant from the Incarnate Word Foundation set the foundation.

For information, visit wholekidsoutreach.org.

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