OWATONNA — On a bitterly cold night, hearts were warm and generous inside the St. Mary’s School cafeteria Wednesday, as those who gathered embarked upon several service projects during “A Night to Start the Year Off Right.”
Students, families and guests were able to do everything from making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Hospitality House and Lily Sparrow and creating survival kits for new dog owners, to crafting supportive cards for overseas soldiers and designing door hangers for local senior citizens. These projects were all designed by St. Mary’s students.
Each year, Chris Smith, a St. Mary’s teacher, asks his seventh- and eighth-grade students to pick an issue important to them, make a presentation on it, and then offer a solution to address it. The seventh-graders must design projects that can be completed by people of all ages in an hour in the cafeteria, while eighth-graders are allotted wider parameters, like taking a field trip to Feed My Starving Children later this year.
“I’m pretty impressed because it takes a creative mind to address an issue they think is important” with a project that can be completed in a short time, Smith said. A highlight of the evening is students learning “service can sometimes be a small thing, but taken together, it can make a big difference,” said Smith.
Students Gavin Dewitz and Drew Randall teamed up for a project in which those present Wednesday night could craft cards to be shipped overseas to members of the U.S. Army.
“I know quite a few people” in the military, including “some neighbors who babysit us during the summer,” Dewitz said.
The only real guidelines for the cards were “be creative and say good things.”
“They might not be getting the love or respect they should be getting,” Randall added.
They plan to send hundreds of cards to Soldiers’ Angels, a foundation that will act as a middleman and pass the cards along to servicemen and women.
"May No Soldier Go Unloved" encapsulates the motivation behind Soldiers' Angels, according to the foundation’s official website. To date, volunteers have sent hundreds of thousands of care packages and millions of letters and cards to "adopted" deployed service members, supplied the wounded with more than 25,000 First Response Backpacks directly at Combat Support Hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan and the major military hospital in Germany, provided care and comfort to those in stateside military and VA hospitals, and have incorporate technology to support rehabilitation.
Camryn Smith and Abby Medo partnered to make anti-bullying posters to hang throughout the school, hoping that awareness of bullying will help curtail it.
“We thought it was wrong how many people were getting bullied even in our school and wanted to help,” Smith said. “Signs are one way to help, and people can also make bookmarks to take home.”
Smith and Medo even made some examples for younger students to draw from, Medo said. One poster read, “Be a buddy, not a bully,” while a bookmark advised, “If you see something, say something.”
Jack Sanda and Noah Hodgman united to fill care packages for local kids. They plan to give them to the food shelf, where parents can pick them up for their children.
“Poverty is a problem, especially childhood poverty,” Hodgman said.
The packs contain items children “don’t get all the time,” like coloring books, toys and snacks.
Lillie Bos and Hillary Haarstad handed out survival kits for pet owners, including tips and treats. They planned to give them to the humane society to be offered to those who adopt pets.
“Our main thing was animal abuse, but a big cause of that is new owners not knowing how to treat pets correctly,” Haarstad said. “We have our own dog, and I really like animals.”
Students are always gratified when they see others helping with the projects they’ve devoted time and effort to, Smith said. “I think they rise to expectations.”