Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

ECFC001-webErika Conaci, a freshman at East Catholic High School, measures rice in preparing meals for children in Haiti. (Photo by Lenora Sumsky)

MANCHESTER – Students at East Catholic High School packed 40,000 meals for Haitian children and families as a Lenten initiative on April 11. The school-wide service project wasn’t quite as miraculous as the Gospel story in which Jesus fed 5,000 people, but it did all start with the inspiration of one student.

 Grace Mazzarella, a junior at East Catholic, participated in a hunger project with members of her confirmation class at St. Matthew Parish in Tolland. The experience led her to suggest the activity, as a sophomore class project, to Laurie Janecko, the school’s director of campus ministry. See photo gallery at

“It was great idea and a wonderful opportunity,” said Mrs. Janecko. “We decided to extend participation beyond the sophomore class and include the entire student body.”

In partnership with Feeding Children Everywhere, a social service charity that empowers and mobilizes people to assemble healthy meals, students combined ingredients to create meal packages that each serve six people. One of the school’s gymnasiums was converted into a temporary food packing arena with 12 well-organized assembly lines.

Throughout the day, music, laughter and conversation filled the gymnasium as 728 students worked in shifts to ultimately create meal packages that filled 139 shipping boxes. None of the teens seemed to mind wearing blue hair nets and plastic food service gloves while working together. As the day went on, a pyramid of boxes, each containing 288 meals, grew wider and taller. Students cheered as each additional box expanded the pyramid.

Like the five loaves and two fishes in the Gospel story, ingredients for the lentil and rice meals that students prepared were simple, nutritious and all-natural.

Rebecca Burger, who is northeast relationship manager for Feeding Children Everywhere, helped organize the event. She said each meal package contains lentils for fiber, iron and 15 grams of protein per serving. Rice adds essential amino acids, vegetables supply natural vitamins and flavor, and pink Himalayan salt supplies 84 trace minerals. And, the meals are vegan, gluten-free and kosher.

Students raised $10,000 to pay for ingredients and supplies for the Lenten project. It was the second year that East Catholic students raised funds and worked together in a school-wide service project.

Ms. Burger labeled the students “hunger heroes,” but they adopted a more humble view.

Senior Taylor Porco, who arrived at 5 a.m. to help set up for the event, was tired but pleased to participate and grateful to be involved.

“This helps you look beyond the bubble of our school and realize that other things are going on in the world,” she said. “Not everyone can go on a mission trip, but this is a way we can all help.”

Jason Hartling, principal and chief administrator of East Catholic, said, “Especially for a Catholic school, this is a beautiful representation of us teaching Christ’s message.

“Every day [students] are serving the community in different ways, individually and in partnering teams. But this is their time to come together as a whole school and work together, feel a real sense of accomplishment and a sense of who we are as a Catholic community,” he said.