In just more than a week, the girls at St. Mary’s Dominican High School collected enough food to provide 15,413 meals to New Orleanians in need.
“We work with almost all the high schools in the New Orleans area, and St. Mary’s continues to be the largest school food drive we see year after year,” said Melanie Hoeman, volunteer services supervisor for Second Harvest Food Bank.
Hoeman was one of the representatives who recently accompanied Second Harvest’s truck to St. Mary’s to collect a total of 18,928 cans. Watching the assembly line of girls loading boxes of food onto pallets, Hoeman was all smiles.
“It means so much to us to get a donation like this, especially now in the spring,” she said. “We get a lot of food drives during the holidays, but in the summer, we also experience a huge increase in need with all the kids out of school — many of whom rely on free and reduced lunches.”
Second Harvest is the largest food bank in the state. Its role is to provide food to a network of more than 300 member agencies, including local homeless shelters, throughout southern Louisiana. Last year, the organization distributed 22 million meals.
Each year, the St. Mary’s food drive has a theme. This year’s played on the popularity of the book and film series “The Hunger Games.” All seven religion teachers took on identities of different Hunger Games competitors, or “tributes,” and were supported by the five classes they teach.
“That way, students of different grades are working together to support the teachers,” said Katie Almon, campus minister at St. Mary’s.
Those who have read the books or seen the movies would find it fitting that the winning teacher of this year’s food drive, Catherine Mifsud, competed under the same nickname as the winning character in the series — “The Girl on Fire.”
New to St. Mary’s this year, Mifsud was able to “fire” up the 127 students in her five religion classes enough to bring in 4,031 cans.
“We had been in second place all week, so I was really pushing them,” Mifsud said.
It obviously worked. One of Mifsud’s students showed up on the last morning of the drive with 240 cans.
“Apparently, her father gave up eating out at lunch for Lent,” Mifsud said. “He took all the money he saved and made that the family donation to the can drive.”
Though the drive is a competition, there are no formal prizes awarded, the consensus being that they aren’t needed.
“I promised my students doughnuts if we won this thing, but I can tell you right now that there will be some students that won’t even eat them,” Mifsud said. “That’s not what this was all about. We all take such pride in this event, period. This isn’t about getting a grade or anything. This is about the pure joy of giving.”
Seniors Kristina Nagy and Julia Delesdernier saw evidence of the endurance of this school pride while out buying cans on the last day of the competition with $200 collected from their classmates.
“We were in line at the last store with $75 left, and this lady behind us saw us in our uniforms and started talking about how she remembered her daughter doing this when she was at St. Mary’s,” Delesdernier said. “When the total came up, it turned out we were almost $20 short. We were shocked when this same lady just hands over her credit card and tells the cashier to put the rest on her card.”
“She was a total stranger,” Nagy said. “It was a real random act of kindness that blew us away.”