Philo the hub of ‘Extreme Makeover’ generosity

Photo Caption: Msgr. James Ramer celebrates Mass at the construction site.

By: By Jennifer Willems

PHILO — Need doesn’t make an appointment. It usually comes on fast and strong and requires immediate attention.

As students returned to St. Thomas School in Philo, and Holy Trinity School and Central Catholic High School in Bloomington last week, they jumped into service projects to help a family in need — one that feeds about 250 families in need each week through the Salt & Light Food Pantry in Champaign.

The schools participated in a food drive, one of the ways central Illinois volunteers were involved in “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” which chose Nathan and Jenny Montgomery of Philo to receive a new house. Ty Pennington, host of the ABC television program, and his crew worked with Brady Homes of Bloomington to construct the house at 407 N. Harrison St. in just 96 hours. The project began on Aug. 19 with preparations to demolish the current structure and ended on Aug. 25, when the Montgomerys and their four children entered their new home for the first time.

Gwenn Roche, principal at St. Thomas School, said the staff knew before school started that Philo was one of the sites being considered by “Extreme Makeover.” They decided to conduct the food drive to help Salt & Light whether or not the Montgomery family was chosen.

“We saw this as an opportunity to start the year with service,” she told The Catholic Post. “That’s the school theme — ‘To live, love and serve as Christ.'”

ROCHE AND Msgr. James Ramer, pastor, accompanied 73 students to the construction site on Aug. 21 so they could see what their service was accomplishing.

“It’s perfect,” Roche said as she watched the cranes lift roof trusses into place. “It’s a wonderful opportunity that dropped into our laps. Of course, we like to think of it as divine intervention.”

Nathan Montgomery was a successful engineer when he decided to start Salt & Light, a non-denominational ministry that serves people in Champaign County. Giving up an engineer’s salary meant the family was no longer able to afford repairs to their own home.

While the Montgomerys aren’t Catholic, the school families at St. Thomas wanted to get involved in the food drive, Roche told The Post.

“It’s a community. We all chip in and help each other,” Roche said. “Whether they are part of the parish or not, it’s an opportunity to help one another.”

Tiffany Dodd, mother of sixth-grader Macie, added that in a small community everyone knows everyone. Girl Scout Troop 2076 in Champaign, which she leads, has volunteered at Salt & Light, where Nathan Montgomery is executive director.

“It’s just a wonderful group,” Dodd said. “For the kids it was an eye-opening experience to see that this hit close to home.”

ED, BOB and Bill Brady, owners of Brady Homes, are members of Holy Trinity Parish in Bloomington. At the families’ request, Msgr. Ramer celebrated Mass at the construction site last weekend.

In addition, there are several Brady students at Central Catholic High School and they asked their classmates to get involved in the food drive, according to Nancy Nolan, moderator of the Interact Club there.

The school’s goal was to collect 1,200 canned goods or about three items per student. Joy Allen, principal, told them that if they met their goal, there would be an open lunch on Sept. 4, the day of the intercity football game.

“We were just shy of 2,000 cans,” Nolan told The Post. “Our students overall are very generous in giving of their time and in this situation, giving cans for the food drive.”

THEY MOVE fast, too. The idea was presented to the Central Catholic student body on Aug. 19 and the deadline for returning the canned goods was last Monday, Aug. 24. The Bradys picked up the donations the following day.

Holy Trinity School, which also enrolls several young members of the Brady families, collected canned goods, too.

According to the Web site established by Brady Homes for the “Extreme Makeover” project, three semi-trucks filled with food have been delivered to Salt & Light. Future donations may be taken directly to the pantry at 1512 Anthony Drive in Champaign.

For more information about Salt & Light, call (217) 355-5654 or visit the organization’s Web site at

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