St. Mary Magdalen Students Bring “Caring” Service to Catholic Schools Week

It was a busy morning for bakers and crafters at St. Mary Magdalen School on Tuesday, when students happily set aside their schoolwork to create meals, snack bags and kits for the many needy individuals and families served by the Ministry of Caring.

First, 2nd and 3rd graders were busy scooping dollops of ricotta and spreading mozzarella cheese atop pounds of Baked Ziti. Next door, kindergarteners could be seen cutting up 40 pounds of fruit salad, while 4thand 5th graders were busy decorating 300 cupcakes, and 7th graders made two dozen fleeces blankets.

“The morning is crazy in here on the day we prepare meals for the Emmanuel Dining Room and the Village of St. John,” said Tina Gillen, student activities coordinator at St. Mary Magdalen. “But our kids are really compassionate and they really want to help. They take great pride in the things they accomplish this week.”

This is the 10th year that students at the North Wilmington school on Concord Pike have made time during their celebration of Catholic Schools Week to show care and love to the poor and homeless, including adults and at-risk children who are served regularly by the Ministry of Caring.


Sixth-grader Franco Vranic helped make 150 brown bag lunches with his classmates for homeless looking for a grab and go option at the Ministry of Caring’s Emmanuel Dining Room, which has fed the homeless for 50 years. “It’s been an amazing morning. We just made bologna and cheese lunches for people we don’t know but we still care for them because they’re homeless. They don’t have food. They don’t have a bed to sleep in. It’s sad,” he said. The bagged lunches came with apples, a bag of chips, and a pair of socks.

The sixth grade held small fundraisers throughout the year – like a $1 jeans day – to raise funds for the bagged lunches. “It just makes me feel great to know that I’m helping other people who don’t have what I have,” said Vranic.

The volunteer concept started out small back in 2010, when St. Mary Magdalen approached the Ministry asking for ways it could help during Catholic Schools Week.

Each year the program has grown, and now every student – from Pre-K through eighth grade – rolls up their sleeves to help throughout the week. The items students bring in to donate serve as a reminder of all that they have and that even the simplest things are appreciated by the hungry and less fortunate.


“This gives our students a chance to break outside of our school identity and recognize that they are part of a larger city, a larger state, or a larger country,” said St. Mary Magdalen School Principal Patrick Tiernan. “Everyone can do something, however small. And then when you add it all up, it’s amazing the impact they have,” he said.

Priscilla Rakestraw of the Ministry of Caring visited the school Monday to thank the students for their efforts and remind them they are touching the lives of real people going through some of the most difficult times a life can bring.

“You’ve helped so many people. You’ve pretty much adopted the Ministry of Caring,” said Rakestraw. “And you’ve adopted the people who need you. Being the poor is losing the soles of your only pair of shoes and being ashamed of that; being poor is  having powdered milk for breakfast because you can’t afford to buy real milk; being poor is being old and afraid and alone.”

“So I want to thank you for making a real difference. You don’t have to be an adult to make a difference and you have helped so many people – and children – have hope and a brighter day. Thank you.”

This week students have contributed:

  • Monday: 500 pairs of socks for homeless and poor men, women and children
  • Tuesday: 40 pounds of baked ziti, 40 pounds of fresh fruit salad, 150 brown bag lunches, 100 packs of hot chocolate with marshmallows, 300 cupcakes, 100 treat bags for children and 24 fleece blankets
  • Wednesday: 400 gently used children’s books
  • Thursday: 500 scarves, gloves and hats for adults and children
  • Friday: More than 250 canned goods – soups, spaghetti, chili

Parents help, too. For example, families of 1st through 3rd graders shop for spaghetti sauce and cheeses, and they are asked to bring in five pounds of cooked pasta for the baked ziti. Each 4th and 5th grader bakes a dozen cupcakes at home.

The ziti and cupcakes made their way to the Village of St. John, a new affordable housing complex run by the Ministry of Caring in Wilmington’s Old Brandywine Village for seniors, where 8th graders cooked and served lunch and later play games of Bingo with the residents.

Beyond Catholic Schools Week, St. Mary Magdalen School is leading a drive to support Ministry of Caring programs every month.  Gillen said the school’s students collected 500 pairs of socks in October, over 400 coats in November and December, and this spring they will be collecting canned goods and children’s books.

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About the Contributor

Christy Fleming

Christy Fleming

The managing editor of, Christy Fleming also supports a variety of non-profit initiatives in Delaware. Her background includes positions in public relations, advertising and journalism.