St. Ann Catholic Church Partners with LaBelle Elementary School to Provide Food for Every Student

LaBelle Elementary School students react to receiving their “Sharing our Blessings” food bag from St. Ann Catholic Church’s St. Vincent de Paul program. Every Friday, church volunteers distribute weekend food bags for every student at LaBelle.

Every Friday, volunteers from St. Ann Catholic Church pull up to LaBelle Elementary School with hundreds of bags of food for students to take home for the weekend. Since they started in April 2015, the volunteers have delivered thousands of bags of food and hundreds of board games plus school supplies, school uniforms and books as part of the church’s St. Vincent de Paul “Sharing Our Blessings” program.

In the beginning, the volunteers provided bags of food for 150 students every week with the intent of supplementing the free and reduced lunches the students receive at school. Last year, the number of bags jumped to about 360. This year, the group brings enough food bags to send home with every student at LaBelle. That’s over 420 bags.

The volunteers wheel up to the school with cartons of presorted bags of food. They know how many bags each teacher needs to distribute and scurry down the hallways unloading containers for each classroom. This school year, the LaBelle teachers distribute the bags to the students before they leave on Friday, but in the past, volunteers handed out the food in person.

“We would stand out at dismissal and as the children were loading the bus, we would hand their bags to them,” explained Karen Miller, “Sharing our Blessings” coordinator for St. Vincent de Paul. “We also [passed out bags to] some of the walking students.”

Passing out the bags to each student is one of Miller’s favorite memories as a volunteer. She enjoys seeing the smiles on the children’s faces and learning how her church’s partnership with LaBelle is making a difference.

“The students would come out and say ‘thank you,’” Miller recalled about hand delivering the food bags. “The teachers send home notes. The students make us cards. They tell us a little about their families.”

Miller and her team of elves, er, volunteers will soon have the opportunity to once again greet the LaBelle students in person when they wish them happy holidays ahead of winter break. The volunteers plan to bring a 20-foot moving truck packed with recyclable bags that are filled with nine days of food, including macaroni and cheese, boxes of cereal, canned food and more. The “Sharing our Blessings” group will pass out the food bags as the kids leave school for their December vacation. Volunteers pack extra food for students on the day before all extended school breaks.

To help the kids entertain themselves over winter break, St. Vincent de Paul has launched a church campaign to collect about 900 board games so they can give two board games to every LaBelle student. Last year, they gave away blankets and one board game to every student.

Since August, Miller and her fellow volunteers have provided more than 5,000 food bags for LaBelle students. Ahead of Friday food deliveries, about 20 volunteers form an assembly line at the church to pack the food.

One way they raise money to fill the bags of food is by participating in the Atlanta Community Food Bank’s Hunger Walk. They raised $2,500 during the last walk and have set a goal to raise $10,000 for the next walk.

Working with her church’s food bank inspired Miller to help launch and expand the “Sharing our Blessings” program.

LaBelle art specialist Jerilyn Price suggested her school as a location where Miller and her crew of volunteers could fill a need because the majority of students are on the free and reduced lunch program. According to Price, the students are very grateful to receive the bags of food.

“They feel very special when they get the bag, even if it is only five items,” the LaBelle art teacher said. “They look forward to Fridays. They say, ‘Oh it is Friday! We get the bags today!’”

Michael Smith, a LaBelle interrelated teacher, agrees with Price about the students’ reaction to the food donations from “Sharing our Blessings.”

“Because I work directly with the students, I can attest to what the children are saying. The children are very excited. They go home with delicious things to eat,” Smith explained.

Smith, who feels that LaBelle is “very blessed and fortunate” to have a partnership with St. Ann Catholic Church, thinks it is important for schools to reach out to their community and local businesses to develop relationships.

“There are a lot ways a community can support a school,” suggested Miller, who is willing to advise other organizations on how to get started.

In addition to the weekly food bags and the holiday gifts, the “Sharing our Blessings” volunteers collect books for the school throughout the year. At the beginning of the school year, they do a school supply drive for the students. During the year, they provide teachers with wipes, tissues, paper towels, snacks for the kids, and more. The volunteers also have given school uniforms to the students.

“We are so grateful that we have a partnership with St. Ann’s ‘Sharing our Blessings’ program,” added Smith.