by Moira Cullings
EMPORIA — The smiles that lit up Sacred Heart Parish here on Jan. 27 said it all.
“You could tell it was a different experience than what they’re used to in these types of situations,” said Sacred Heart principal Darby O’Neill.
The visitors who arrived at the parish that day were there to collect a box filled with food — a gift from the students and their families.
It was the second annual Boxed with Love event, a pop-up food pantry hosted by Sacred Heart during Catholic Schools Week and designed for those in the community in need of extra help.
The school partnered with Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and shared event details through its parish bulletin to get the message out.
Its students spent around six weeks collecting items that ultimately filled 50 boxes on the day of the pantry.
Their efforts reminded Sacred Heart pastor Father Brandon Farrar of a quote from Pope Benedict’s 2005 encyclical letter “Deus Caritas Est.”
“Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave,” the pope wrote.
“I thought this [food pantry] allowed a humanizing of the act of giving,” said Father Farrar.
“I think it gives the students lived experience of Christ’s expression that unless you lose yourself, you won’t find yourself.” he added.
“It helps in the process of formation to redirect their gaze away from themselves to the other,” he continued.
Not only did the students gather the food items and organize the boxes, but they also interacted with the people they were serving firsthand, making for a unique food pantry experience.
Third-grade students like Julena Zamora sang church hymns, and fifth-graders like Cooper Legako held the door open and greeted visitors.
The fifth-grade students also drew pictures on prayer cards that were placed in each box, Legako explained.
For Zamora, “doing what Jesus calls us to do” felt good, and she and Legako said it’s something they would love to do again.
“Seeing them grab the boxes” was fourth-grader Kadie Wade’s favorite part of the day “because I was glad that we helped them.
“I liked seeing the smiles on their faces, and it made me smile seeing them happy,” she said.
Third-grader Henry Tajchman enjoyed “getting to carry out boxes for people because I knew that I was helping them.”
O’Neill said the experience impacted his students in a profound way.
“You could see kids’ eyes widen as they recognized some of the people that were coming,” he said. “We have volunteers who come in and help the school for various reasons, and one of the volunteers went through the line.
“It helped them realize that we don’t know who needs help or what people are going through.”
It also encouraged the students to “treat everybody like Jesus, because we don’t know who we’re interacting with or what they’re going through,” O’Neill added.
Marcie Logsdon, whose son is a third-grader at Sacred Heart, was the team captain for the PTO group during Catholic Schools Week.
She was impressed by the students’ work ethic and is grateful her son had the experience.
“Catholic school is just so amazing,” she said. “My heart is so happy when I get to see our students and my own child do things like this.
“So often, kids will take a food donation, even to the grocery store. But not only did these kids collect food for six weeks or more, they actually boxed it and they actually got to see the people come and get it.
“For them to truly work hands-on and understand that we’re helping somebody — even people we know — I think is a pretty special thing.”