Students learn about homelessness, take action

By Joyce Durida | Editor
Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Students learn about homelessness, take action

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity School, 6040 W. Ardmore Ave., hosts a day of service focused on understanding homelessness and helping those in need on Nov. 22, 2021. Students listened to presentations about homelessness and engaged in discussions around the topic before they made and packed lunches for the homeless. Members of the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society provided the days programming. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Dave McNaughton, who leads the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society, speaks to the students. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students listen to a presentation. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students discuss a question about homelessness with Delia O'Connor from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Fourth graders Addie Bucks, Lily Pulse and Alexa Welch write messages on the paper bags for the men and women who will receive them. Organizers say those personal notes often move the recipients to tears. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Third grader Griffin McIssac makes a ham sandwich. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A student makes a ham sandwich. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

A Nov. 22 service day aimed at raising awareness of homelessness inspired Josh Grzeczka, a fifth grader at St. Elizabeth of the Trinity School, 6040 W. Ardmore Ave.

“I’ve only seen a homeless person a few times in my life,” he said.

He remembers a man he has seen living outside a bowling alley on Northwest Highway, and described the spot where the man lives.

“He’s got himself a cardboard fort, kind of,” he said. “He looks like he’s living on his own.”

Grzeczka wants to help him if he can. 

“I actually was planning to maybe try and ask my parents to drive me there and see if he’s there. If not, I’ll write a letter to him and then I’ll just make a little gift bag with stuff for him,” Grzeczka said.

Raising awareness of how people become homeless, what they need and how the students can help them was the goal of the service day, school staff and volunteers said.

The day began with students divided into groups by grade to hear 30-minute, age-appropriate presentations on homelessness by members of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity Parish’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul. After those presentations, students spent the remaining hour making sandwiches and Thanksgiving Day cards to attach to the lunches for those receiving the meals.

“For them, aside from going to Feed My Starving Children, this is hands-on and is something that they can do,” said Principal Kristine Hillmann. “It’s important for all of our kids to know that no matter how small,  that they can contribute to something. And we’re talking local homeless. These could be their neighbors. These could be people they see on the street.”

The day was part of the Catholic social teaching schools include in their curriculum.

“We teach the kids our Catholic values, to love everyone and to reach out and help others,” Hillmann said. “They’re not just learning how to help, but they’re learning about homelessness and some of the myths that are out there,”

The St. Vincent de Paul Society planned the presentations and provided the food and materials to assemble the lunches.

Some students decorated lunch bags and wrote notes to go inside while others assembled ham and cheese sandwiches and added fruit, chips and dessert.

Dave McNaughton, who leads the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society, said his group enjoys helping young people understand the issues of those who are poor and inspiring them to action. 

“Not only is it important to see the person, but you see his need and try to do something for that need. That’s the whole idea,” McNaughton said. “We know homelessness exists and we’re not hopeless. We can do things together to help.”

Students also heard from Monica Dillon from NWS Homeless Outreach Volunteers, the group that distributed the bagged lunches at local encampments and places where they know people sleep.

She said her group has seen an increase in people living in on the streets and sleeping on people’s couches whenever they can.

The decorated bags and the personal notes will touch many hearts, Dillon said.

 “It brings tears to these folks because they come from families,” she said. “It just brings tears to their eyes. Simple cards from children keep them connected, keep them grounded, keep them focused on their own goals.”



  • catholic schools
  • homelessness

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