By TARA CONNOLLY
Mercy School for Special Learning, Allentown and Marian High School (MHS) Tamaqua spent the better part of their school year raising awareness about the poor, collecting funds and volunteering their time to help alleviate poverty around the world.
Both schools applied and were immediately named Global High Schools for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) – with Mercy being the only school for students with special needs in the nation – which is a partnership with CRS to educate others about Catholic social teaching and advocate for solidarity with the global poor.
As Global High Schools, Mercy and MHS received silver-level status by participating in Rice Bowl and one school-wide event. Both schools moved on to gold-level schools by continuing Rice Bowl and organizing two school-wide events to benefit the poor.
On Jan. 28, both schools were awarded the platinum level – the highest level as a Global High School and became two of the only five platinum level schools on the East Coast.
According to Beth Grys, principal of Mercy, the school initiated the application process after students embarked on a year-long giving program to local organizations, participated actively in CRS Rice Bowl, and hosted a speaker on behalf of CRS International.
“Our students are very blessed to have generous donors and benefactors who support the mission of Mercy and the dreams of our students. While our students enjoy receiving, they are much more invested in giving to others. We may be served, but we also serve others,” said Grys.
At MHS members of the CRS club offered a presentation Jan. 28 during a school assembly, where the club depicted their journey with the poor that included a visit to Franklin Square to view the CRS traveling photo exhibit “Be Unafraid,” which features stories of refugees in America and their American neighbors.
“The exhibit spoke of how both parts overcame fear. Also, we experienced a refugee camp in the Middle East through virtual reality glasses.,” said Gabby Greek, MHS student.
“We were able to talk with a refugee from Syria who is studying at one of the universities in Philadelphia. He spoke of the chaos in his homeland and how he hopes to one day be able to make a change in this world for the poor.”
MHS actively expressed solidarity with the poor around the world by hosting a Thanksgiving Banquet Nov. 19. Divided by the percentage of the world’s wealth population, students experienced what a breakfast might be like in the first, second and third world.
Six persons in the first world enjoyed a full Dunkin Donuts meal, and 50 persons from the second world were sent to the soup kitchen for cold cereal and milk, juice and a small piece of fruit. The rest of the group, over 150, were directed to sit on the floor, where bags of lettuce leaves, pots of cooked rice, and containers of darkened water was left for their food.
“Reality struck us knowing that there are 1.2 billion people living in poverty around the world and that 842 million of these people suffer from chronic hunger. We can make a difference in their lives through the work that we do locally, nationally and internationally,” said Greek.
“The Hunger Banquet, during the week of Thanksgiving, was a great reminder of how thankful we should be for what we have, and how hard we need to work to help the poor of our communities.”
In addition, MHS supported the poor through an Ethical Trade Sale in conjunction with DeSales University, Center Valley and through the CRS Ethical Trade program that helps bring the core values of the faith to choices consumers make in the public market.
“Fair and ethical trade is rooted in caring for people and the planet. It is about honoring Christ through our purchases. We were able to help poor in over 12 different countries, as well as in the United States,” said Greek.
This year Mercy and MHS will set their sights on raising funds for the world’s poor by distributing more than 500 Rice Bowls on March 6, Ash Wednesday.
Presenting the awards to the students at both schools was Jeff Wallace, CRS relationship manager.
“You are part of an exclusive number of schools because you wanted to make a difference,” he told the students.
“We don’t just give to poor Catholics. We are driven by the teachings in the Gospel. You are making an impact all over the world.
“We need you. We need everyone. The more people we have to end global poverty – the more people are able to live out their life with inherent dignity.”