BY HEATHER FINSTER
St. Petersburg Catholic High
Dozens of students spent the weekend driving around their neighborhoods in pickup trucks and SUVs, collecting heavy bags of mac and cheese mix, cans of chicken noodle soup and foods they never even knew existed, including risotto with funghi porcini and sardines in mustard and dill sauce.
Many others sat at home painstakingly separating mountains of spare change, with some students' paychecks not even making it to their pockets, so they could purchase food for less fortunate people.
The week before Thanksgiving is often marked by tests and homework as anticipation of the upcoming break and the Christmas season builds to a frenzy. This week, however, more than four hundred St. Petersburg Catholic students have been adding a whole new layer to their anticipation.
During November the school has been conducting its annual canned food drive to support Daystar Life Center in downtown St. Petersburg. Daystar feeds more than 11,000 families every year, and St. Pete Catholic is their main food provider. For this year's drive, the students have a lofty goal: 50,000 cans. That breaks down to roughly 112 donations per student over the course of three weeks. Sound impossible? After many years of wildly successful food drives, the school has it down to a science.
"It's important that people participate to help provide for those who can't (provide for themselves or their families)," said senior Taylor Bardecki, "and to model Christ and what he would do."
Jackie Briggs, who is the coordinator of youth ministry at the school and is organizing the drive for the first time this year, emphasizes the importance of understanding the main goal: to raise awareness of homelessness, hunger and poverty while building a strong foundation in prayer, service and volunteerism.
Deeply rooted in spirituality, the drive opens with a Catholic Mass on Nov. 1 and closes with Mass on Friday. Every week in November, students have gone to St. Vincent de Paul to serve lunch, and another group of students spent a Saturday at Daystar to help unload, sort and stack. "This is a great opportunity for our students to see firsthand the kinds of people that we help with our can donations, and a perfect example of meeting Christ in our everyday lives," Briggs said.
Another key factor to the drive's success is the energy and passion students have for the drive. "I brought in all the cans from my pantry, along with spare change my dad has been collecting for over three years for Penny Wars," the school's class competition, said Bardecki. "Then, I went out with my friends and dispersed around 200 (empty) bags in my friend's neighborhood. We collected the (full) bags three days later and received about 500 cans. We did the same thing for my neighborhood and got 540 cans. Each trip took about 2 1/2 hours."
Many students took leadership roles as members of the Student Government Association, honor societies and upperclassmen. Students would help collect and count each class's cans during first period every morning, stacking and sorting them by groups of 10. One of the most important factors is the intense competition between freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, taking class pride to a whole new level. The winning class will receive a day off.
Yes, that's right. It just got serious.
"I enjoy the class competition, I think it helps each class get motivated," said Bardecki. "Though the sophomores (at press time) are in the lead now, I'm really hoping that the seniors will pull it together and win the class competition, like they rightfully should!"
As much fun as the competition is, students try to keep it in perspective. No matter who wins or whether the school meets its goal on Friday, they will know that they helped to calm the growling bellies of thousands of people in the community.