St. Martha School in Enfield’s annual giving project this year addressed the immediate concerns of new neighbors in Hartford who had arrived from Puerto Rico just weeks before.
The students collected a truckload of Christmas presents, warm clothing and household goods for newly arrived Puerto Rican families in Hartford. As their annual Advent project, the students decided to do something to meet the special needs of six Puerto Rican families who lost everything in devastating Hurricane Maria.
“Our Advent project is a wonderful thing we like to do every year to help people in need,” said eighth-grader Isabella Hinkle, referring to the school’s efforts this year on behalf of six Puerto Rican families newly arrived in Hartford whose homes were devastated by the recent storm and who had lost everything.
“You can just see it on the news,” she said, “but we thought about ways that we could help.”
Father Robert Villa, St. Martha pastor, and Ann Southworth, principal, described the annual project as a long-standing tradition at St. Martha, one that is always centered around the Holy Family.
“This year when the students heard the stories on the local news about the Puerto Rican families in Connecticut,” said Father Villa, “they wanted to reach out to help because they felt like the plight of the homeless from the Puerto Rican storm, those who were resettling in Connecticut during Christmas, was like that of the Holy Family traveling to Bethlehem.”
Father Villa worked with the San Juan Center in Hartford, which provided the names and specific needs of the members of six families, including 10 children, one a baby boy expected in February.
Diya Mistri, grade six, was proud of the work done by the students and families to gather so many items of warm winter clothing, toys and household goods.
“I feel we are a school that wants to give to people who are less fortunate than we are,” she said, adding that the St. Martha students are always asking, “How can we help?”
Lorenzo Vella, grade five, agreed. “The families are really in need. They came here with nothing and had nowhere to live. We decided we had to find them stuff for a happier Christmas and things that would help,” said Lorenzo.
Notices went home to the families identifying specific needs, and as more and more donations started to pour in, the whole school became excited about helping the families. Father Villa said the school community is looking forward to seeing some pictures that he said he hoped to obtain from the San Juan Center.
For several weeks during Advent, the students teamed up by classrooms and grades, with the children responsible for organizing, sorting and packing all the donations, while at the same time continuing with their academic work.
Attributing the outreach and giving spirit of the St. Martha students to Catholic school education, Southworth said, “The Church is the center of our school. We don’t just teach the faith, they live it. It’s great to know that these kids are receiving the message of the Gospel here, putting it to work and bringing the message of Christ to others.”
In the school hallway lined with boxes and gift bags sorted and labeled for each recipient family, the students were excited when the truck rolled up on a snowy morning just before Christmas break to make the delivery to the San Juan Center for distribution to the families.
While helping the students load the gifts, Father Villa thanked them for taking on what seemed to them at first to be a huge project.
“Responding like Joseph did in the dream, you were not afraid; you took the initiative; you accomplished good things by listening to the word of God in your hearts.
“And by saying yes to God,” said Father Villa, “you changed the lives of six families this Christmas.”