By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
The sounds of basketballs bouncing and sneakers squeaking were replaced by the shuffling of boxes and the clinking of cans. Students gathered in the gymnasium Feb. 2 at St. Philip & St. Augustine Catholic Academy to assist Catholic Charities Dallas in assembling 900 boxes of food.
“We bring the food. We bring the boxes,” said Rigoberto Aguilar, logistics and community project manager for Catholic Charities. “The school provides the tables and the student volunteers. It’s a real blessing.”
Fourth-grade teacher Brandon Borgemenke, who coordinated the St. Philip & St. Augustine effort, credited Matt Vereecke, superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Dallas, for giving him the idea for the Catholic Schools Week service project.
“I told him that I wanted our students to be able to have some kind of hands-on activity where they could feel like they were making a difference in their community,” said Borgemenke, who said Vereecke suggested he contact Catholic Charities. “In subsequent conversations, Catholic Charities and I came up with this school project where students could get involved packaging meal boxes for people in need.”
Initially, the plan had been to shuttle SPSA students to an offsite Catholic Charities Dallas location, but logistical concerns made it difficult.
“Catholic Charities went above and beyond, they got creative and asked if SPSA could host them,” Borgemenke said. “This allowed us to get many more students involved in meaningful service.”
Aguilar said the student-led help comes at an opportune time.
“With the pandemic and everything that has been happening, there has been a struggle to keep up with everything we need,” he said.
The food is provided by North Texas Food Bank as part of its partnership with Catholic Charities.
“The food bank can provide the food, but the problem is finding volunteers to pack it,” he said. “This here that we are doing today – this is a huge help.”
Aguilar said the boxes will be used as part of CCD’s box program, which aims to fight hunger in areas of high food insecurity.
At St. Philip & St. Augustine, Borgemenke said the service project builds upon the tenets of Catholic social teaching students are taught throughout the year.
“Teachers and staff emphasize that our faith is not meant to exist in a vacuum, but is active and must be lived out,” he said. Borgemenke said every student he spoke to during the project walked away from it thrilled, telling him how much fun they had and asking when they could do it again. “There is nothing more rewarding as a Catholic educator than to see students genuinely enjoy helping others.
“Service should be rewarding because it is the point at which faith meets action and we use our gifts to meet the world’s needs,” he added. “Getting students to see and understand the joy that comes from living the faith is among the many goals of Catholic schools.”
SPSA eighth-grader Alexia Barrientos said she felt overjoyed to be doing something that provides a service to those who need help.
“It’s important to do this because we are helping other people in need who are less fortunate than us,” Barrientos said. “That’s God’s mission for us.”