PSR students’ ­Ark of Hope brings attention to poverty issues

Contributing Writer

An Ark of Hope seemed like a good fit for the Catholic Relief Services’ Advent fundraising campaign. After all, Advent is a season of hope, said Joan Wilkens, a parishioner at St. Michael Parish, Paderborn.

Wilkens also serves in the social justice stewardship position on the parish council.

“We want to bring attention to the needs of people living in poverty-stricken countries all over the world,” Wilkens said. “Pope Francis said ‘the poor evangelize us.’ This is particularly important in our country. For that reason, in these countries where Catholic Relief Services serves these communities, they are hurting even more and in greater need.”

Wilkens worked on the idea with parish secretary Sue Walsh and Cheryl Sommer of Catholic Relief Services in the Diocese of Belleville.

“Cheryl had initially suggested a Christmas tree, but our church already uses a Christmas tree to collect Christmas gifts for needy families in our community. I thought of doing an Ark instead and Cheryl thought it was a great idea,” she said.

The PSR children participate in the CRS Rice Bowl fundraiser during Lent, so Wilkens decided to get the PSR students involved in this effort, as well, she said.

During brainstorming sessions, Wilkens was inspired by the Noah’s Ark theme. She began making the arks out of wood and cardboard.

The two Arks of Hope she made – one for PSR and another for the church – have photos and descriptions of far animals that can be purchased with the funds raised, and how it will help “pay it forward” and keep giving for families in need of assistance.

For instance, tree saplings can be purchased at five for $5. A single rabbit is $27. One pig is $30.

For $40, people can purchase five hens and one rooster. For $80 each, people can purchase lambs and baby goats. A cow is $300. One hive of honeybees is $410.

Wilkens explained to the 8th grade PSR students at St. Michael’s on one Sunday morning what the purchase of an animal could mean to a poor family.

“We’re asking you to do what you can. You are going to be asking your family, friends and neighbors,” she said. “Have fun. We’re going to try to do the best we can.”

Wilkens said a rabbit can produce organic manure for home gardens and coffee fields. Baby goats can provide the life-saving gift of milk and cheese to help with well-rounded diets.

“A pig is an insurance policy when crops do not produce the income that they thought,” she said.

Chickens not only provide eggs and protein but a family can sell eggs for extra income, she noted.
As for bees, with the honey produced, a hive pays for itself, she said.

“We can bring hope to impoverished nations. We can leave this world a better place,” she told the students. She explained that there are 7 billion poor, impoverished people in the world.

Wilkens quoted St. Teresa of Calcutta: “I cannot do what you can do, you cannot do what I can do, but together we can do a lot” and “We are God’s hands and feet.”

Wilkens told the students about her mission trip to El Salvador in Central America in 2013.

“If you are ever offered the opportunity to go to a different country, you should go,” she said. “We all have difficulties in our lives. These people have practically nothing and they are so happy and hospitable.”

Wilkens thinks the CRS fund drive can produce tangible results.

“It has taken on a life of its own,” she said. “I think it could be a lot of fun for families to make this a joint effort. Bring together children, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and maybe even co-workers and neighbors in asking them to contribute to this Advent season campaign of giving for CRS. After all, the Advent season is the ‘giving’ season.”

The PSR students seemed enthusiastic about the fundraising project.

“I think it is unique,” said Lindsey Lester of Paderborn.

Jada Casto of Millstadt agreed.

“I think it is a very good way to help people. It will go a long way and help a lot of people,” she said.

The St. Michael Parish School of Religion teachers involved in the project include Jennifer Neff, Mary Gardner and Rachael Huffman, all three teachers by profession, and Mary Havel and Paula Farley, who are non-professional staff.

Checks can be made available to: Catholic Relief Services and they can be dropped off in the collection basket or mail them to the church.

For more information about the Ark of Hope Project or CRS, contact 618-473-9384.