Diocese’s schools mobilize to assist tornado-stricken regions

Photo Caption: Volunteers from Peoria Notre Dame High School unload bottled water at a relief storage and distribution site now being coordinated by Catholic Charities in Peoria.

When disaster struck Central Illinois, among those who quickly mobilized to offer relief and prayers were the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Peoria.

Nearly all of the 44 elementary, secondary schools or academies in the diocese reported some response to the Nov. 17 tornadoes, ranging from out-of-uniform days and bake sales that quickly raised needed money to hands-on support, including providing volunteer teams for clean-up and other relief work.

In some cases, the effect of the tornadoes — and the response — was personal. That was certainly the case at St. Patrick School in Washington, the hardest-hit community. Nearly one-third of the school’s 290 students as well as some staff lost a home or had theirs heavily damaged by the EF-4 tornado. A relief center opened in the school gymnasium the day after the tornado, quickly filled with donated items, and continued to offer supplies and hot meals to tornado victims until it closed on Dec. 2.

The school was not damaged. Among those assisting staff in tending to the needs of the students after St. Patrick reopened Nov. 21 were counselors, comfort dogs, and five Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Recognizing that St. Patrick students could not come to Peoria with students from around the diocese to venerate a relic of Blessed John Paul II on Nov. 19, the sisters distributed holy cards that had touched the relic.

“WE WILL BE PRAYING FOR YOU”
Elsewhere, other school communities were directly affected — including several with teachers or students who lost homes. Among them were St. Joseph School in Pekin and St. Malachy School in Rantoul.

“The week of Nov. 18 we had many families without power for three to five days and were displaced from their homes,” said Shannon Rogers, principal of St. Joseph. The school opened a breakfast program and planned a spirit week to help with clothing issues. Three free dress days and bake sales were set to raise money for families with damaged homes, and students in grades 6-8 made blankets to offer comfort for children who lost security blankets or stuffed animals.

The village of Gifford, four miles east of Rantoul, “is in a bad state,” reported James Flaherty, principal of St. Malachy School. “A number of our parishioners and students live in Gifford. One of our teachers lost her house and all possessions.” The school and faculty had a collection for her, provided food, and the parish and school are planning a long-term relief plan for storm victims.

“We will be praying for you to be strong and not give up on what you are doing,” wrote Kennedy Barrett, one of several fifth-graders at St. Malachy’s whose notes to students in Gifford Grade School were printed in the Nov. 24 Champaign News-Gazette. “We will try our best to support you.”

In Danville, 27 Schlarman Academy junior and senior students as well as faculty members traveled to Gifford on Nov. 21 to assist the Eric and Lisa Rademacher family, key supporters of the school whose business, Rademacher Building Center, was destroyed. The team helped tear down a shed, recover salvageable items from the rubble before it was cleared, and offer personal comfort.

In addition, Schlarman students raised funds for the family through a “jeans day.” The total collected from students after one week was $2,100.

TEACHERS DONATE BONUSES
In Peoria, the teachers at St. Mark School have decided to give up their own Christmas bonuses to contribute toward a monetary gift for middle school teacher Carol Faklaris, whose home in Washington was destroyed by the tornado. St. Mark students conducted a canned food drive, raised funds, and fourth graders made rainbow loom bracelets with the proceeds from sales for tornado relief.

Similarly, St. Vincent de Paul School rallied around science teacher Kaitlyn Oljace, whose family home in Washington was among those hit by the storm. Gift cards, cash, and clothing were donated to her and her family, and the school had an all-school rosary on Nov. 22 for all tornado victims, according to Jane Tompkins, principal.

One student at Holy Family School lost her home, and “everyone has pitched in to help financially since the family has no place to keep donations of furniture,” said Pat Kellogg, principal.

St. Thomas School in Peoria Heights mobilized special support for the Wallgren family, former parishioners who now attend St. Patrick in Washington and whose home was destroyed. In a note to school families, principal Maureen Bentley also encouraged parents to speak with their children about the tornadoes and how their families can empathize with those who are suffering.

Peoria Notre Dame raised immediate money for gift cards to help its families affected, and waived family tuition payments for the month. In addition, the school sent 75 students to help clear area fields of debris and other teams to volunteer at locations including the new Catholic Charities relief center.

Many schools sent cards and notes with their donations. In Philo, St. Thomas School made banners to deliver to Gifford and Washington.

The football team from Central Catholic High School in Bloomington delivered and served a meal prepared by football parents to the Washington football team, which was competing in the state playoffs. Through several efforts, the school sent $3,600 in cash and gift cards to Washington High School and St. Patrick Church and School.

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