Holy Spirit helps ease
childhood hunger, educate
parish community about poverty

Eamonn Harty, a student at Holy Spirit School, helped to fill bags with food for students at Dunn Elementary School earlier this month. Holy Spirit School and parish raised enough money to feed 40 students for two years through the Blessings in a Backpack program. (Photo Special to The Record)

Responding to Pope Francis’ call to pray for the hungry and then feed them, Holy Spirit Church community’s students and parishioners have made a commitment to ease childhood hunger close to home and beyond.

Holy Spirit School parent Robin Rueff said Pope Francis’ encyclical “Fratelli Tutti, On Fraternity and Social Friendship” tells people:

“You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.”

School families and parishioners took that to heart and started raising funds for Blessings in a Backpack in May. Since the start of the school year, they have also been packing and delivering Blessings in a Backpack food to Dunn Elementary School for children who need food during the weekend.

“It’s a simple way to make a real difference,” said Jane Hertzman, administrative assistant to the pastor. Father Frederick W. Klotter, pastor, had been looking for a way for the parish and school to collaborate on an outreach program, she said.

“Why on earth should any child go without food over the weekend? It takes so little time and money,” to support the program, said Hertzman. Childhood hunger is “something that shouldn’t exist. It’s mind-boggling.”

Rueff, who also serves as a marketing executive for Blessings in a Backpack, and Amy Harty, a parishioner whose four children attend Holy Spirit, have been coordinating the effort with Hertzman.

Blessings in a Backpack is a national nonprofit which started in Louisville and its mission is to provide food for needy children on weekends, said Rueff, whose three children attend Holy Spirit.

Every other Sunday after Mass, parishioners and school families gather to fill bags with food, such as pre-prepared macaroni and cheese, fruit cups, ravioli, beef jerky, granola bars, and cereal.

All the items are easy for children to open and need no preparation. This is important, said Rueff, because some children may not have access to a microwave or have an adult present.

The project has also raised awareness about hunger and poverty, said Hertzman and Rueff.

According to the Blessings in a Backpack Louisville chapter website, 64,000 children in Jefferson County are food insecure. A lack of food can lead to a shorter attention span and affect children’s performance in school, according to the organization. It aims to feed 4,365 children in local schools this year. Rueff said it costs about $120 to feed a child each weekend for a school year.

Holy Spirit students read the book “Maddi’s Fridge,” which raises awareness of childhood hunger and were asked to raise funds for Blessings in a Backpack, said Rueff. In two weeks the students had raised close to $3,000.

Overall, the school and parish have raised more than $8,400, enough to feed 40 students at Dunn this school year and 40 next school year, a total of 76 weekends, Hertzman said, noting that parishioners have also been generous with their time.

Hertzman said Holy Spirit’s students are not just raising funds and filling bags with food. They are becoming more aware of poverty and asking questions.

Rueff agrees.

“When you tell them this is all the food a child may have over the weekend, it brings home the reality of hunger,” said Rueff.

She said she heard from a second-grader who suggested they send bottled water along with the food.

“ ‘What if they don’t have water at home?’ ” Rueff said the boy asked. “I hope the kids will get something out of it and that it will be life-changing for them.”

The school and parish have also adopted Cordia School, which serves students in preschool through 12th-grade, in Hazard, Ky. They are raising funds to feed 100 children at Cordia through Blessings in a Backpack, said Hertzman.

To learn more about Blessings in a Backpack, click here.

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