During Catholic Schools Week, all of the students at St. Joseph Regional Catholic School in Beltsville worked together to compile “Bundles of Love” to give to people experiencing homelessness.

The “Bundles of Love” club at the school was founded two years ago by now-sixth grader Michaela West, who last year told the Catholic Standard that she started the group because “I want the homeless to know that they are not forgotten.” She received a 2017 Prudential Spirit of Community Award for her volunteer work.

The club hosted the Jan. 31 event, with club members sorting the donated goods and guiding the younger students through the process.

Each bundle consists of toiletries, non-perishable items, beverages, blankets, coats, scarves, gloves, and similar items. The Bundles of Love Club went grocery shopping to purchase the food items with Giant gift cards that a parent in the school had collected from people at her workplace. The other items were all donated from school families.

One child’s grandmother owns a dry cleaning store, and donated clothes left at the store that had not been picked up after a long time. While they were not able to include all of those clothes in the bundles, they plan to donate them to a shelter or give them out at the parish clothing closet.

In addition, one family donated handmade rosaries along with a “how to pray the rosary” guide, which was added to each bundle, along with a heart-shaped note with kind words written by a student.

CS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann

The older students helped guide the younger students through a line of these donated goods, allowing them to “shop” for what they wanted to put into their bundles. Then, the students returned to where the rest of their class was, and wrapped the items up in a sleeping bag to complete the bundle.

Anne-Marie Miller, the school’s pre-kindergarten teacher and assistant principal, decided to use this as a teaching moment. As she compiled the bundle with her students, she taught them why each item was important to include, explaining the importance of drinking water, eating vegetables, and having a hot drink like hot chocolate on a cold day.

After their bundle was wrapped up, she asked each child to put a hand on the bundle as she prayed over it, asking God to “please be with our friends who receive this bundle…help them to stay safe and warm this winter.”

In the past year, the Bundles of Love Club has grown from having about 10 members to having 44, which is about a quarter of the student body. Many new members, like sixth grader Cheyenne Thomas, decided to join the group after last year’s Catholic Schools Week event.

Thomas said her family took one of the bundles that the students had compiled last year, and delivered it to a man who needed it. The experience of helping someone “made my heart feel good inside,” she said. Inspired by that experience, she decided to join the club to help more people.

“I think it’s cool to see younger kids wanting to be involved,” said Justin Owens, a sixth grade student. “They’ll learn and maybe one day they’ll be where we are now.”

In addition to growing within the school, Bundles of Love has expanded across the continent. There are now 10 chapters of the club, with two in Virginia, two in Maryland, two in Pennsylvania, one in Texas, one in Wisconsin, one in New Jersey, and even one in Canada. They have recently been contacted by someone in the United Kingdom who is interested in starting another.

“It’s exciting because I like seeing everyone knowing they’re helping out,” said Michaela.

Michaela’s mom, Sophia, is also involved in the club, and was helping out with the Jan. 31 event.

“It’s the core of what we do…our Catholic values. Giving that love is what we do.”

As the kids were compiling the bundles, she reminded them that they couldn’t forget to put in the most important ingredient: “love.”

As one way of including love in the bundle, an eighth grade student led the others in the “Angel of God” prayer. Then, Sophia told the kids to “muster up all the love you have” and put it in the bundle.

Pre-K students at St. Joseph Regional Catholic School in Beltsville say a prayer for the person who will receive the bundle of supplies that they created together as a class during a "Bundles of Love" event Jan. 31. (CS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)

A note went home to the school’s parents inviting them to pick up a bundle to deliver whenever they see someone in need. On Jan. 31, each grade completed a bundle, and next week the Bundles of Love Club plans to use the 39 remaining sleeping bags and blankets to make more bundles for people to deliver.

Members of the club frequently go to encampments where people are living in tents or boxes to deliver the bundles, which Sophia said has a profound impact on both the students and the parents who are involved.

“It’s the core of what we do…our Catholic values,” said Sophia, noting that the members of the club learn not to judge someone based on where they live. “Giving that love is what we do.”

Having this event on Catholic Schools Week felt appropriate because “Catholic Schools Week is all about our school coming together as a family and working together,” said Michaela.

(CS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)