Holy Cross youths fill backpacks to be given this week to those in need
CHAMPAIGN — Two days before Christmas break began for students at Holy Cross School in Champaign, classrooms were decked with twinkling lights, Advent wreaths and decorated trees.
But students were thinking of people who are less fortunate by stuffing backpacks filled with clothes, toiletries and other items to be given away at Daily Bread Soup Kitchen in Champaign.
"It's our Christmas present to people at the soup kitchen," said 10-year-old Spencer Burgin, who was stuffing a backpack Monday in Mary Tate's fourth-grade classroom.
Several different classes at Holy Cross contributed to the backpacks, whether it was bringing in the items to put inside the backpacks or the bags themselves.
Among those filling backpacks were fourth-graders in Tate and Gerri Bramfeld's classrooms.
In Tate's classroom, Spencer and his classmates spread out with their supplies on a carpet in the back of the room, in front of a faux fireplace and Nativity scene. Music from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" played on a CD player on top of a bookshelf nearby.
Tate recommended putting the bulkiest items into the backpacks first. Those included things like fleece throws and blankets, shirts, thermals, hats, gloves and scarves.
After that, the students packed in toiletries like deodorant, toothpaste, razors, tissues and shampoo. Some brightly colored backpacks for kids also included items like dolls and other toys.
Spencer said his backpack included blankets, underwear, gloves, toothpaste, razors "and a whole lotta socks."
He also brought in shampoo, toys and crossword puzzles.
He said the garments are the most important items, because they'll keep Daily Bread's patrons warm.
"And actually, the backpack gives them something to carry," Spencer said.
Holy Cross Principal Rosemary Costello estimated Holy Cross students filled more than 100 backpacks.
The backpacks varied on the grade levels putting them together.
Sixth-grade teacher Judy Crull said one parent sewed zippered pouches to hold the toiletries in all the backpacks the fifth- and sixth-graders stuffed.
Some of their backpacks also included a bag of candy, a homemade Christmas card and paperback books.
Sixth-grade teacher Jeri Roberts said parents also donated items like flashlights and reading glasses.
Not only did the Holy Cross students collect and stuff the backpacks, they'll also deliver them in person.
It's not unusual for the students to walk items over to Daily Bread, which operates at New Covenant Fellowship in downtown Champaign. Each week, a different group of students delivers milk and fruit for the soup kitchen, said Ellen McDowell, former president and current volunteer at the soup kitchen.
Holy Cross' involvement is a result of Costello's dedication to teaching the school's students about the poor and homeless, McDowell said.
"They know they're bringing milk and fruit for people who wouldn't have it if they didn't bring it," McDowell said.
McDowell said the soup kitchen started giving away items in small paper bags years ago — usually things like a comb, a toothbrush and maybe a razor with shaving cream.
The patrons' needs grew, McDowell did, and so did the size of the gift, to a shopping bag.
"Then someone decided that if we gave them a backpack they could actually use it all year," she said. "That began the backpack tradition."
In the two years since the soup kitchen moved to New Covenant, organizers have started providing more bags for women and kids as more are coming to the soup kitchen.
Other groups donate, too, she said, including volunteers from Provena Covenant Medical Center in Urbana. They make and donate two large bags of knitwear — things like hats, scarves and gloves.
These "really boutique things" are incredibly nice, she said.
The backpacks aren't just about giving away stuff, she said, but about caring for the people who need them.
"We're not an agency and we don't pretend to be," McDowell said. "We want to keep the atmosphere one that indicates our concern for our fellows. ... The material things we're giving out are important and are much needed, but we also want the caring to come across."
The Daily Bread Soup Kitchen is stuffing more backpacks for the people it serves from 1:30 to 3 p.m. today. They will be distributed Wednesday.
Former President Ellen McDowell said the soup kitchen would be happy to accept more empty backpacks or toiletries today. And the soup kitchen is continually accepting donations of gloves, hats and coats because of an ongoing need for those items.
The soup kitchen operates out of New Covenant Fellowship, 124 W. White St., C.