St. Paul asks the Romans a rhetorical question: “How can people believe in Jesus if they haven’t heard of him?” (See Rom 10:14). St. Paul’s point: Go out and tell people.
Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas (CCNEK) got the point. CCNEK helps those living in the 21 counties of northeast Kansas come to know Jesus through words of compassion and deeds of charity via ministries that encompass everything from pregnancy and adoption to end-of-life issues and hospice care and everything in between.
CCNEK engages with all kinds of people too: staff, volunteers, clients, and people in need. They even involve school children in their outreach in an effort to help the younger generation embrace Jesus’ way of love and service.
Camille Pickhinke, director of Community Engagement for CCNEK, said the agency offers a program called “School Serve Day.” “The purpose is to educate students by grade level – or in an age-appropriate way – about Catholic Social Teaching and the work of Catholic Charities,” said Pickhinke. Currently, based on staffing and available resources, CCNEK works with five schools in Johnson County, Kansas.
The School Serve Day involves children from pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade. The actual day of learning and service falls on a school day during the year. It’s an all-day event that begins with Mass, which is attended by the entire school and Catholic Charities staff. After Mass, CCNEK staff branch out to the different grade levels to talk about their programs and introduce a service project. By the end of the day, the students have heard about the full scope of services at CCNEK and participated in a service activity. Sometimes the junior high students go offsite and serve alongside staff at one of CCNEK’s programs.
“Simultaneously, education is happening in every classroom,” Pickhinke said. “The lessons are rooted in Scripture and tradition, such as Matthew 25:35-40, taking care of the least among us. As part of the education piece, we bring a project – with all the necessary materials – to the classroom: something like packing hygiene kits for our Resource Bus program. The students learn about what we do, why we do it, and actually do a project that will benefit the program they learned about.”
Recently, due to the pandemic protocols, a virtual School Serve Day took place at Holy Spirit Catholic School in Overland Park, Kansas. Holy Spirit named their school day “Hawks Helping Others.” Since the event was virtual, CCNEK scaled back the topics and focused on hunger and nutrition, one of the basic human needs CCNEK prioritized during the pandemic.
Before the virtual meeting, CCNEK sent reading material about hunger and nutrition to the teachers so they could help students prepare for the day. Students were asked to donate food items ahead of time as well.
On the actual School Serve Day, students were separated into two groups of grade levels: PreK-4 and 5-8. The younger group of students watched a virtual tour of CCNEK’s food warehouse. The 5-8 grade students listened to a presentation by CCNEK’s food and nutrition specialist, and they did an activity called “Spice My Plate.” The students organized common spices and seasonings by following a recipe card and bagged the products, which were then distributed at CCNEK’s food pantries.
Holy Spirit’s principal, Michele Watson, thought the day was a great success. “We were happy to work with [CCNEK] and plan to continue the partnership for many years to come,” she said. “The children learned so much from the videos, as did I, and it helped to make this COVID year a bit more ‘normal’ for us.”The success of the virtual meeting, however, has not sidelined real visits. Pickhinke noted that a complete in-person School Serve Day was scheduled for March 12, 2021. But whether the meetings are conducted by video or in person, the goal is the same: to help children connect their faith in Jesus with active love for their neighbor.