Students of Niagara Catholic Jr./Sr. High School went out into their neighborhood to spend a day carrying out the Corporal Works of Mercy. They fed the hungry at soup kitchens, visited the sick at senior centers, and gave alms to the poor at community missions.
On May 3, the nearly 200 volunteers visited 20 different sites to understand the needs of others from various cultures, ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. The Day of Caring, now in its fourth year, also introduces students to the importance of service.
A small group of six students and one teacher headed to the St. Gianna Molla Pregnancy Outreach Center - Niagara County branch to pack clothes for disadvantaged families. The center provides material, emotional and spiritual support to single mothers, fathers and young families in need from pregnancy to five years.
"I always say that, as Catholics, we get criticized for pushing pro-life, then just kind of leaving the mom. This is a way we can help get her started, get her what she needs," said Irene Salek-Raham, coordinator for the Niagara center, which also offers referrals to WIC, food pantries, Holy Trinity Thrift Shop for household goods, and parenting classes. Salek-Raham also talks to mothers about developmental norms for toddlers.
The center is run by Salek-Raham with the help of one assistant. "So, getting a crowd like this helping fold clothes is huge for us," she said.
"We're sorting baby clothes and making baskets for mothers in need. I like it. I have a lot of babies in my family right now, so I like sorting baby clothes," explained Alyssa Gara, 16. "It's good to help out people who are less fortunate than us, understand how grateful we are and give back."
"I like doing things that help out," added Marissa Campbell, 17. "I live right in Niagara Falls, so it's good to do something at home,"
As the only male helping out at what some might think of as a place for women, Jesse Ogundiran enjoyed helping out the center.
"I feel great because I get to help out people in need of help and also I get to understand women's perspective," he said.
Ogundiran, 17, is an international student from Japan. Helping out others is common in his home country due to its susceptibility to earthquakes and tsunamis.
"We have a lot of earthquakes that happen in Japan, so people go out to help people who suffer from earthquake. So, I can relate to this volunteering," he said.
The center, housed on the grounds of Divine Mercy Parish in the former St. Stanislaus School, has one room filled with plastic bins of sorted clothes, while another room has the unsorted piles. The volunteers folded and sorted clothes, then filled bins with labels such as "3 months boys summer."
Father Jacek Mazur, pastor of Divine Mercy Parish, allows the diocesan Office of Pro-Life Activities, which oversees the center, to use the building rent and utility free. The three St. Gianna's locations - Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Dunkirk - rely on donations of clothing and money to help those in need. The current needs include newborn clothes for boys and girls, toddlers, and baby bottles.
"I have some little church ladies that I love. They crochet and knit the little sweater sets and booties and bonnets. Who knits and crochets anymore? It's a dying art," said Salek-Raham. The handmade items give a special grandmother's touch to the babies who receive them.
Service days are a common experience in Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Buffalo. Students and faculty of Bishop Timon-St. Jude High School recently visited Seneca Babcock Center St. Ambrose Church, Notre Dame Academy, Mercy Hospital, Our Lady of Victory Family Practice (Mercy Hospital Satellite Clinic), Cazenovia Park, St. Martin's Church, Okell Park, South Side Elementary School, Tosh Collins Community Center and Our Lady of Victory School for their Day of Giving.