By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Our Lady of Guadalupe School, established at 23rd and Madison in 1915, has endured changing neighborhood demographics, consolidations and economic challenges. But as the students, faculty and staff have learned, amazing things can happen in 12 months.
Just two days before Thanksgiving last year, school secretary Maria Sanchez-Chastain noticed a student walking around the lunch room tables, picking up uneaten, leftover fruit. When she questioned the student, she was surprised and saddened to hear, “It’s for dinner for my mom and me.”
Sanchez-Chastain immediately told Joe Schramp, the principal, that she wanted to send some food home with the student. Schramp shared the story with Bright Futures Fund Director Jeremy Lillig. Lillig posted the situation on his Facebook page and sent out a text message, saying simply, “Twenty five percent of our families don’t have food.”
That message was sent on a whim, Lillig said later, but the response amazed and warmed him. He let Sanchez-Chastain know about the posts, and she had a table set up in the school’s main lobby in case any donations came in. Within a short time, she had set a dozen bags of canned goods on the table.
Friends of Lillig reposted his message on their Facebook pages and soon, people all over the city were touched by the families’ plight and wanted to help. The next 18 hours were incredible, Maria and Schramp recalled.
School was closed for the Thanksgiving holiday, and Schramp was home sick, so Maria volunteered to come in for a couple of hours to handle any donations that might come in. “I figured it would be just a couple of hours,” she said. “It ended up being 8 a.m. – 8 p.m., almost non-stop.”
At one point she said, “I looked down the street. Madison was completely parked up, people were getting out of cars and bringing bags of food up to the school. Within a couple of hours, we had to move everything to the art room, and it was soon stocked! People even brought Thanksgiving pies. It was amazing!
“Volunteers came to help sort the food, and even my 87 year old mother was here all day, sorting, sacking and giving advice on preparing food to make it stretch over several meals. I started making phone calls to families I knew needed some help and 10 to 15 parents came to pick up food. I even delivered bags of food to a mom who couldn’t get away from work.”
The final tally was 4,000 cans of food, pies and about $6,000 cash. Donations of gift cards, gift certificates and cash came from friends in St. Louis, San Diego, Chicago and New York City. Lillig’s third grade teacher from St. John La Lande School arrived with bags of food. It turned out to be a Happy Thanksgiving for all the families of Our Lady of Guadalupe School.
Lillig said, “We don’t admit just students to our schools, we admit families.” The generosity continued past Thanksgiving, he added. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, of whom Lillig is an Associate, set up the St. Joseph’s Emergency Assistance Program for the three schools. Discretionary emergency funds are available annually for three years for the principals to use.
A men’s OLG alumni group happened to see the story in The Kansas City Star about the “Flash-food drive,” and called Maria with an offer. They wanted to purchase and contribute turkeys to families for Christmas dinners. She said they have repeated the offer for this year. Other groups and alums are raising money for the school’s centennial in 2015, helping fix up the school’s physical plant, build a grotto in the side yard with a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe and install new energy efficient lighting throughout the building. Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kan., is preparing to offer English as a Second Language classes to adults and help with G.E.D. preparation.
The Society of Latinos at Avila University, which works with elementary and high school students to promote their heritage and diversity, has offered to participate in Las Posadas at Christmas and Cinco de Mayo celebrations, as well as painting the school and helping with fund raising events.
Many of the alumni were surprised to find the school still open, Maria said, which spurred their offers of assistance.
One group which had no previous connection to Our Lady of Guadalupe School, other than their shared Catholicity, has made a big impression on the staff and students of Guadalupe.
Notre Dame de Sion, with two campuses — one lower school and one high school, was founded in 1912. Earlier this year, Chris Broderick, head of all Sion, attended the School Bell Breakfast, hosted by the Bright Futures Fund each April as an awareness and fund raising event. After watching a video about the Strong City Schools and meeting several Our Lady of Guadalupe students seated at her table, Broderick approached Joe Schramp with the suggestion that Sion and Our Lady of Guadalupe become partners, sister schools.
Shortly before the first day of school this fall, Broderick contacted Schramp and the two discussed the partnership. “I figured there’d be a couple of joint service projects; get the kids from both schools, interacting,” Schramp recalled. “Well … it turned out to be awesome!”
One of the first activities involving the younger kids from both Sion and Our Lady of Guadalupe was a joint class held at Sion’s Lower Campus community garden. First and second graders from both schools learned about fall planting and how to begin growing a garden.
A short time later, fifth and sixth graders from Our Lady of Guadalupe joined Sion’s sixth through eighth graders in a joint service project at Sacred Heart Church at 25th and Madison.
The interaction of the kids was great, Schramp said.
Sion’s Lower Campus classrooms began collecting reams of copy paper and money to purchase more for Our Lady of Guadalupe School.
Then Schramp learned that the Student Body President and the Student Council at Notre Dame de Sion High School had something up their sleeves. They held a Sion Fun Night at California Pizza Kitchen, with a percentage of the proceeds benefitting the food pantry at Our Lady of Guadalupe School.
“I was amazed and delighted when we received a check for $1,052, to benefit our food pantry,” Schramp said. Yes, the food pantry now has a home in the reading resource classroom, and school families can go shopping if the need arises.
For many of the high school students, this was their introduction to Our Lady of Guadalupe School. Sion Student Body President Moira Quinn recalled, “Before Mrs. Broderick told us about the partnership with Our Lady of Guadalupe, I had only heard the name mentioned maybe once or twice. I did not know anything about the mission of the school or the people that attend the school. After it was announced to the Sion student body that we would be partnering with OLG, we were excited but also unsure of what this kind of relationship would entail.”
The pizza fun night was such a success, Moira wanted to do something that would benefit Our Lady of Guadalupe and raise Sion school spirit during their annual Spirit Week. She started doing some outside research for ideas.
“When I came upon the penny war idea on a website,” she said. “I brought it (the penny war idea) to our student council meeting. A few of the girls responded saying they had heard of this kind of fundraiser. When we took it to a vote, the decision was unanimous and we decided to have a penny war. The last part was to choose who the money would benefit. In previous years, we have had breakfast sales and donated the money to different charities, but this year we thought of our partnership with Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Student Council spoke and made their opinions known that the money would best benefit our new sister school. When the time came for Spirit Week, the fundraiser got off to a shaky start, but with the use of social media, posters advertising the penny war, and a little healthy competition, the money started flowing in. The Student Body opened their hearts to the idea that we, as young women, could help others with our simple money. The cool thing about the penny war is that a fundraiser collecting money as small as pennies and dimes made it easy for the girls to feel connected and to feel as though they could personally help out. Fundraising doesn’t have to be an extravagant operation. In one week, a small group of 450 girls managed to change the lives of others in our community.”
In that one week, the penny war collected $4,650 in pennies and dimes. Some of the older students at Our Lady of Guadalupe were invited to come with their principal to Sion High School Oct. 29 for a pizza lunch and the check presentation.
Moira had been interviewed by Channel 5 about several of the high school’s activities to better understand the lives of the poor and try to help. She spoke of sleeping outside on a frosty night and mentioned the penny war. The reporter questioned her further about the penny war. On Oct. 29, the interview was broadcast on the morning news show. Minutes before Moira was to present the check to Joe Schramp, a Sion family, who insisted on anonymity, called the school and offered to match it.
A beaming Moira Quinn presented the large, cardboard check facsimile in the amount of $4,650 to Schramp. Chris Broderick announced the match offer, bringing the total raised in the penny war to $9,300. As two eager Guadalupe students gave Moira a “Thank You” letter signed by all the Our Lady of Guadalupe students, an equally smiling Joe Schramp thanked the Sion students for their generosity and told them that the money would be used to equip the computer room at OLG with working computers.
“We were so thankful,” Schramp said later. “We were in such desperate need of computers! Right now we have three types of computers in the classroom. We have a few that work, several that sort of work and the rest are not working at all. Our prayers are answered! I did not expect this. Our partnership with Sion has gone above and beyond any expectations. It’s absolutely amazing!”
Lillig said he is working on getting Intel or comparable laptops for the school. “I’m in the process of researching the best computers for the needs of elementary school children.”
He added that what the Sion students have done has truly benefitted the students at Our Lady of Guadalupe, and has given them dignity. They too have something to teach, so both sides learn and benefit from the experience. When you give from yourself, it means so much.”
And both Notre Dame de Sion and Our Lady of Guadalupe students can attest to that.