Lawrence school breaks out the sledgehammers to fight hunger
by Jane Graves
Special to The Leaven
LAWRENCE — Start out small and dream big.
That was the message delivered loud and clear to students St. John the Evangelist School in Lawrence on April 13 as the upper grade students chanted, “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Bash out hunger!”
Jennifer Meitl, youth director for the parish, explained what all the shouting was about.
“I always, in college, I had these big dreams,” she said. “I was going to establish these huge programs that would change the world; [programs] that would change millions of lives.”
She said she came to realize that it was not just the big programs and gestures that made a difference, but also the small ones.
“I hope that [from this activity] the students understand that they can do something right here, right now, where they live,” added Meitl.
So, sixth-graders, while learning about the corporal works of mercy and how to address social injustice, discussed among themselves how the worldwide problem of hunger could be addressed locally.
They then charged their fellow students at the school to donate canned goods to a local food pantry. In exchange, fourth- through sixth-graders got a chance to smash sledgehammers into a donated wrecked car (with all glass and fluids removed), on which sixth-graders had painted with the words: hunger, poverty, injustice, sadness, hate and death.
“We fed some of the 13 million kids [in the United States] that went to bed hungry by giving them cans through the food drive,” explained Emily Walthall, a sixth-grader at St. John. “It felt good to bash out the hunger and the hate and the portion that we made go away with what we did.”
She said organizing and participating in the “Bash Out Hunger” event “made me feel really good about myself, and about our school, and about the things that we can do. . . . We can help.”
“Even if it’s a small thing,” she added, “we can help, no matter what.”
“Poverty, hunger — we need to bash that out,” said Father John Schmeidler, OFM Cap., pastor of St. John Parish. “It’s not acceptable. It’s something that we need to take responsibility for.”
The car, he explained, served as both an illustrative activity for the children and a conversation point for the classroom.
“Grade school kids always need symbols and they need signs and they need to see something physical,” said Father John. “It’s just a fun way of them being able to see something that needs to be battled against.”
“It helps them to know that their faith is something to be acted upon, you know,” said Meitl.
“So what better way than swinging at a car and hitting it?” she added wryly. “It’s an action.”
Aidan Rothrock, a sixth-grader at St. John, understood the symbolism.
“A lot of kids go to sleep hungry at night, and it’s just really terrible. And so we’re bashing out hunger — in both the metaphorical sense and the literal sense.”
Helping those hungry kids, he said, felt “excruciatingly good.”
All that smashing was a hit with other students, too. Erica Nissan, a fourthgrader at St. John, clutched her prize from the “hunger bash”: a neon yellow painted hubcap, which fell off after her sixth hit.
How did it feel to be one of the students able to break a hubcap off?
“Awesome! I love this!” Erica yelled, jumping up and down.
She said she was looking forward her mom’s reaction.
“It’s probably going to be hilarious,” she said. “I hope she lets me keep it!”
Aidan’s summation of the “Bash Out Hunger” experience said a lot for the longterm success of the St. John experiment.
“I’ll probably remember this day for the rest of my life,” he said.
Witnessing just how much just her small school accomplished in a single event, sixth-grader Anastasia Wilds, like her youth minister before her, couldn’t help but dream big.
“Maybe it is possible to bash out hunger and all the bad things in this world,” she said.
“I think that maybe that if we work all together hard enough,” she concluded, “maybe one day there might even be no kids that have to go to bed hungry or know injustice.”