Connecting community and service is an imperative mission inside Wheeling Central Catholic High School, but this weekend it will extend far beyond those walls and to many Friendly City neighborhoods.
For the 45th year in a row, students from Central Catholic will be collecting donations of non-perishable food from thousands of doorsteps this Saturday. The bags, 5,000 in total and all donated by Riesbeck’s Food Market, were distributed by students, staff, and faculty on Dec. 2, and the service project is one that involves every one of the 258 Central students.
“About four years ago we changed the level of participation to include as many of our students, faculty, and staff as possible,” explained Principal Becky Sancomb. “We wanted to make it an all-school service activity so we could expand the learning that takes place during this entire process. That’s why we decided to transport our entire student body out into the community.
“It started with the majority of our student body dropping off the donation bags about two weeks ago, and this Saturday most of our students, staff members, and faculty will go back out for the pickup-process,” she continued. “The past few years we have collected a little more than 20,000 separate donations of non-perishable food items, so it’s been a great help our students have provided the (Catholic Charities) 18th Street Neighborhood Center.”
Peanut butter and jelly, soup and stew, boxes of stuﬃng, boxes of crackers, boxes of pasta and pasta sauce, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, boxes of instant potatoes, cereal, rice, Ramen noodles, canned vegetables and pasta, cans of fruit, gravy, and canned tuna are examples, Sancomb said, of what can be offered during the annual food drive.
“I’m new to the staff here at Wheeling Central, so I’m excited about the opportunity to be a part of something that is so historic here,” said staff member Jennifer Taylor. “This will be our 45th year doing this annual food drive, and as a newcomer to the staff I am excited to see everyone working shoulder to shoulder to make this happen so we can assist the center in helping so many people in our community.
“The main focus for Saturday is collecting the cans so our faculty, staff, and students will be out in our community retrieving the donations from people’s porches,” explained Taylor. “And then everyone will be working to deliver those donations to the 18th Street Neighborhood Center once everything is sorted and organized.”
The service project will begin at 8:45 a.m., and just a few hours later the first of the donated food items will be delivered to the Neighborhood Center. The delivery and sorting of the different foods will continue into Sunday morning.
“Central has been part of the East Wheeling community for 150 years,” said project director Jamie Baron. “We feel a responsibility to give of ourselves for the good of this community, and one small way we can do that is through our annual canned food drive to stock the 18th Street Neighborhood Center.
“We spend hours – weeks, actually – preparing for and carrying out the drive,” she continued. “But if it means that another person, or family, or child doesn’t go to bed hungry for even one night, then no cost to us is too great.”
Sancomb said the 18th Street Neighborhood Center receives the community donations for a few reasons, including the fact that Catholic Charities is a statewide operation under the guidance of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
“We have had a wonderful partnership with the Neighborhood Center, and it is located in East Wheeling just as we are,” she explained. “The people of East Wheeling have been wonderful to Wheeling Central, so it is important for us to serve our community in any way that we can.
“Also, we are connected to Catholic Charities, and we have talked a lot with our students about the organization and about the impact that it has had all across our country and the world,” Sancomb continued. “The services that Catholic Charities provide literally save lives, and they do a tremendous amount of service here in West Virginia, so it is very important to us and to our mission.”
An addition to this year’s food drive project will be a few guest speakers who will explain to the Central Catholic students and staff the importance of serving the community in as many ways as possible.
“We’ve added that learning component so they could hear about what other people are doing here to help improve our community by working with their respective organizations or how they go about their lives,” Sancomb explained. “We believe that will offer them an important message about the continuation of service beyond what our students do already.
“It’s a part of our mission to teach our students that service to God and service to others is very, very important so it is critical that our students understand their role in our greater society and how they can provide an impact toward positive change,” she said. “Part of that is community service, and if we make them aware of the need in our community and make them aware of the ways they can get involved, it is very important to us.”
The chief operating officer of Youth Services System, P.J. Reindel, former English teacher Lou Volpe, and Grow Ohio Valley’s Kate Marshall are scheduled to address the Wheeling Central students.
“P.J. is a great example of someone who has moved into our community and has positively impacted it in a tremendous way,” Sancomb said. “Lou is a part of our history here at Wheeling Central, and he has truly inspired so many of our students and continues to do so today by how he lives his Faith.
“Kate is another person who is in our community who is doing what she does to create positive change and to initiate change through the different service communities she is a part of,” the principal continued. “So our students will hear real-life stories about how service to the community is something that should not end when they graduate.”
The food drive is one of many service projects undertaken by the high school’s students during the current academic year, Sancomb explained, and at times the efforts run simultaneously.
“Along with what we will do this Saturday, the students in our homerooms have purchased gifts to offer to the Neighborhood Center so the children that are serviced there will receive something for Christmas,” she said. “And that means as many as 15 children will have gifts this year because of the efforts of our students, and that’s just one of many ways our student body works to improve the quality of life for others.
“Bishop Bransfield has blessed them, and we will soon take them to the center, and the entire process has taught our students how truly blessed they are and also about what their responsibilities are as far as being a member of the community,” Sancomb added. “We talk a lot about fellowship and the importance of coming together for a common cause and how they can unite us all as a community. It’s part of our daily routine here at Wheeling Central, but these projects are also very important because these missions take place away from the school and beyond the class schedule.”
(Photos provided by Wheeling Central Catholic High School)