Catholic Central High School student James Bell from the London, Ont., school’s Crusaders in Action club with coats donated for the needy. Photo courtesy Catholic Central High School

Season of caring for Catholic high schools

  • December 21, 2022

The pay it forward spirit is thriving in Canadian Catholic schools this Christmas season. 

For many schools, community-minded initiatives date back multiple decades, like the 22nd annual Catholic Central High School Coat Drive in London, Ont. Others, specifically Vanier Collegiate’s Christmas community dinner in Moose Jaw, Sask., have sprung up in recent years.

For both projects, teachers and school staff provide guidance and support, but the student leaders run the show. 

Grade 12 student James Bell is a member of Catholic Central’s Crusaders in Action (CIA), a club raising awareness about local and global social justice issues.  

“This is a great tradition for our school,” said Bell. “Charity is important to us. Our school is located in the downtown region of London. St. Vincent de Paul and Ark Aid (Street Mission) are nearby, and this downtown area is where most of the homeless live in our city. Many of them aren’t able to get good clothing for the winter. We know the Canadian winter can be harsh. It’s very important we provide this clothing so they can stay warm.”

Teacher Lisa Moynihan told The Catholic Register that the number of coats can vary quite a bit from year to year. There was one drive that reaped 1,800 coats. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the campaign in 2020, and it affected the tally in 2021 as 400 coats were collected. For the first normal pre-Christmas countdown period since 2019, Moynihan and Bell said they hope to see a final haul of over 500 coats.

Bell and his CIA squad promote the event with posters around the school, announcements on the intercom and Catholic Central social media accounts. It is a pleasure for Moynihan to witness students like Bell in action.

“One of the reasons I love my job is that I get to work with students like James, who views giving generously as a big part of their lives. It is a beautiful thing to be a part of.”

Bell expanded on why this project is great preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth.

“Being able to help people who really need it is, I think, a part of the Catholic mission in the world,” he said. “People who know God have a responsibility to act in ways that are loving towards other people. Also giving your time and talent is a good offering to God.”

Over a month of planning went into preparing the offering of food by the Grade 12 students at Vanier Collegiate on Nov. 26, the night before the First Sunday of Advent. The dinner, which went on a pandemic-induced hiatus in 2020 and 2021 after being established in 2019, was the major capstone project of the school’s Catholic Studies class. 

For over a month leading up to the dinner, time would be devoted in class to iron out the logistics — arranging entertainment, building community awareness, cooking the food, decorating the school gymnasium and figuring out the most efficient way to handle the transition between two sittings.

French Immersion teacher Monique Byers was one of the teachers mentoring the nearly 100 students feeding over 300 members in the southern Saskatchewan city. She said when the kids were in the thick of ironing out hundreds of details it was initially difficult for them to perceive the ultimate good they were trying to achieve. 

“The first time we did this (in 2019) the students really bought in from the beginning,” said Byers. “They just had a sense of understanding that this was a way for us to serve in the community. This year it took a little longer for the kids to get it, but once we had everything set up, then you could see the light bulbs go off with them saying, ‘now I get it. We can see what all we have been working on has accomplished.’ ”

Students stepped up big to set up a craft corner to entertain the kids in attendance, and there was a station in the gym for them to go sit upon Santa Claus’ lap. Community partner Super Meats Catering took care of the turkey and stuffing for the feast, and the students supplied two flavours of mashed potatoes, coleslaw, salads, hot vegetables and gingerbread cake for dessert. 

“I think our students saw that there is always a need to serve your community,” said Byers. “Many hands made light work, and we were able to pull off something pretty big.”

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