Jesus-Others-Yourself, a project nicknamed JOY, kicked off the beginning of the school year for St. Thomas the Apostle School students in Elkhart. Bringing joy to others has been the theme throughout the school year and took the form of students pledging to do various acts of kindness and charitable acts.
Marcia Gleason, school administrative assistant, learned of an organization called Sleep in Heavenly Peace and was moved to see how St. Thomas could become involved. Sleep in Heavenly Peace is a national effort dedicated to building and providing beds to children without a bed. Her daughter, Casey Szabo, a counselor at the Elkhart Women’s Care Center, is also involved with the organization because it helps her clients.
“When my daughter shared with me how many children in Elkhart County sleep on the floor or in shared beds, I was heartbroken,” stated Gleason. “I went to our middle school students to see how we might help the children and at the same time advance toward our JOY project 500-hours-of-service goal. It quickly turned into a total school- and parishwide outpouring of service.”
The Elkhart chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace was established in 2018. Families with children from ages 10 months to 17 years old can submit an application for a bed. Beth Camp, St. Thomas religion teacher, first encouraged the middle school students to help with an October countywide bed build. “We had 15 students come out on a Saturday and devote their day to build 44 bed kits,” explained Camp. “It was so cool to see the students saw, hammer, sand and put these kits together.”
The parish community piled on the effort. “We put a call out and the response was phenomenal,” shared Gleason. “The organization also takes donations for bedding, and we wanted to send a bed set, a fleece blanket and a pillow for each bed we built. Parishioners donated enough fleece to make 71 blankets, our third graders held a Math-a-thon to purchase bed sets, the fourth and fifth grades raised donations for pillows and our moms held a bake sale. The response has been a total community expression of service.”
Lent gave the St. Thomas school community another opportunity to serve the organization. “We kicked off our Lenten journey with a Stuff the Bus campaign,” explained Camp. “Along with our bedding we wanted each child to receive a stuffed animal and a book. Students earned money by doing good deeds at home and then using the money to purchase stuffed animals to Stuff the Bus. Our librarian, Liz Baker, used proceeds from our Book Fair to purchase the books, and at the end of our Lenten journey we looked forward to sharing the gifts of JOY to this wonderful organization,” concluded Camp.
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