Sunday, August 9, 2020

Putting faith into action: For St. Anthony Students, Selfless Service is a Constant Commitment

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“Be Doers of the Word” is the official episcopal motto of Bishop James Wall, but it’s also a philosophy that drives the students and leaders of St. Anthony School in Show Low, AZ.

For National Catholic Schools week in early 2019, students at every class level participated in a massive collection drive for items for care packages.

Portioning out sugar for food boxes at the Love Kitchen, a community kitchen and pantry in Pinetop, AZ. (Photo courtesy: Laura Higgins)

Laura Higgins, a founder of the school, has spearheaded the annual week-long effort since it was first introduced.

“We kick it off on Monday of Catholic Schools Week. The pre-k, [kindergarten], and 1st grade all collected toilet paper. Junior High [students] all collected water bottles and lip balm. 2nd and 3rd grade all collected wash cloths. 4th and 5th grade all collected healthy snacks.”

On Friday the school delivered their collection to White Mountain Care Packages, a community-driven mission in the White Mountain area of Arizona.

“It was hundreds and hundreds of items,” Higgins recalls. “It was great. It set them up for the main part of the winter.”

Assisting White Mountain Care packages are local churches, businesses and non-profits who distribute the packages to the homeless and needy individuals or families. Each package has toiletries, healthy snacks, and water, and, if needed, contain extra items for children or women’s hygiene.

Student gift-wrappers pitch in at the Salvation Army. (Photo courtesy: Laura Higgins)

The communities surrounding the school benefit massively, says Higgins, “because there’s a huge homeless population and a huge population that’s living really on the edge.”

But the students’ efforts don’t begin and end during one week of the school year. The annual care package drive is just one part of a community service program instituted by Higgins and school leaders in 2011.

“That’s what Jesus told us to do – to be doers of the word,” Higgins said. “And in order to just learn what the word says and what it means, in class, doesn’t go very far when it comes to actually learning what helping other people means, and how good it feels.”

One of the first efforts the school initiated involved visits to nursing homes and residences of community elders or nursing and rehab patients.

Playing games with patients at a local care facility. (Photo courtesy: Laura Higgins)

“It’s something that [students] have taken to from the very beginning. And the teachers are wonderful,” said Higgins, who transports a handful of students in rotation to and from the school for the nursing home visits. “The kids really get the idea that they’re there to help, and we say a prayer before we go in.” Some days, the students play a modified form of kickball with the residents – tailored to include residents in wheelchairs.

Twice a week, groups of students will pitch in at the Love Kitchen, an organization that provides nutritious meals with an open door. And during the holidays, some students volunteer on weekends to help collect and wrap gifts, in partnership with the local chapter of the Salvation Army.

But always, Higgins says, the trips and visits supplement and enhance the students’ lessons in religious classes.

“We’re hoping that it becomes habit, that kids like it, and eventually they’ll realize ‘hmm, this is what Jesus meant.’”

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