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  • Bodkin Elementary students took time out of their school work in January to volunteer and make lunches for homeless individuals.
    Bodkin Elementary students took time out of their school work in January to volunteer and make lunches for homeless individuals.

Bodkin Students Help The Homeless Through Winter Relief Program

Rob Odle
View Bio
February 22, 2017

For Bodkin Elementary students, helping the homeless is a time-honored tradition. Once a year for the past 12 years, Bodkin students have made a pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Chesapeake Church (OLC) to pack lunches and provide support for homeless individuals seeking shelter at the church, and this year was no different.

In late January, virtually every Bodkin student collected snacks, lunch items and other food to create more than 280 bagged lunches for homeless people at the shelter and across the county.

Those items were then delivered to OLC, and during the following week, students walked over to the church to pack complete lunches, decorate lunch bags and write encouraging notes to those who will eventually receive each lunch.

In addition to providing food and neatly packed lunches, students took time to learn about other care agencies, issues that affect homeless individuals and various church programs, and organizations that support the homeless population during winter months.

“It’s difficult to find authentic ways to connect our students to the outside world,” said Jennifer Elsis, Bodkin’s guidance counselor. “We can do a drive here and there, but they never get to see what happens or what they’ve done.”

Elsis loves the winter relief program because it allows students to see and actively participate in the fruits of their labor. “The partnership with OLC has been just so beneficial,” she said. “It allows our students to see service in action, and that’s the goal.”

The partnership began over a decade ago when Donna Moran, OLC’s development director, suggested that the students could play a part in the church’s Arundel House of Hope-sponsored winter homeless shelter. “The students have been on board since the very first year,” Moran said, adding that it would be virtually impossible to support the shelter in this capacity without their help.

“Students go above and beyond when collecting food,” Moran began. “We just ask them to bring in one or two snacks and they bring in a whole case. It gets us through the whole week and provides snacks for the evenings, too.”

One student who strives to go above and beyond is Jilly Lawn. Jilly, a Bodkin fourth-grader, has participated every year since kindergarten and cannot wait to help out again next year.

She said she enjoys the opportunity because she gets to help out people in her community. “I get to see what life is like for some people and I get to be put in their shoes,” she added.

Jilly remarked that, despite taking part in the project for five years straight, it never gets old. In fact, she feels that it has only gotten more exciting. “It becomes more exciting because as you get older, you get more responsibilities,” Jilly said.

As a fourth-grader, this was the first year that Jilly was allowed to actually make sandwiches. Kindergarteners and first-graders are in charge of decorating the lunch bags, second- and third-graders are in charge of writing notes, and fourth- and fifth-graders have the honor of making the sandwiches that are the main course in each lunch bag. “It made me happy because I felt like I was doing something that was changing someone’s life,” Jilly said of her newfound responsibility.

Elsis is proud of students like Jilly for taking pride in their role and striving to help as much as they can. Student participation is paramount, but Elsis believes that the true importance of the program is the teamwork it creates.

“It’s how the communities are coming together,” to address homelessness, Elsis said, describing what she feels is the most important part of the program. “The magic of the winter relief program is that it’s authentic. It’s not doing something just to feel good – it’s participating in a great program with a larger organization, and it’s getting the children thinking.”

Overall, the program is meant to inspire students to go on and serve outside of school. Elsis said that she has noticed an increase in student-driven service in recent years, and that’s reason to believe that the program is working correctly.

“Students are happy to make a difference, so they come in and say, ‘I volunteered this weekend,’ or, “My family did this.’ I’m seeing a lot more opportunities for students to get involved and they are,” Elsis said.

The winter relief program is the product of many moving parts – from students to churchgoers to regular volunteers – but Elsis credits much of its success to the willingness of Bodkin’s teachers and administration to hold the program as a meaningful and important endeavor. “They run this program. They are the ones that support it wholeheartedly and provide this opportunity to their students,” Elsis said before expanding on her point.

“I love to keep this going and keep the kids thinking, but this is not a one-man show,” Elsis said, complementing the work of the teachers and administrators that coordinate so much of the program. “To be a part of a school that provides this kind of opportunity is just so exciting,” she concluded.

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