Diocese’s Catholic schools get creative in raising hurricane relief funds, prayers

Holiding up a poster for their fundraiser to help students affected by Hurricane Harvey in Houston are eighth-graders from St. Jude School in Peoria, from left, Genevieve Stickelmaier, Jessica Shane, Daniel Marcinak, Marcus Targos, and Carly Lindsey. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Catholic schools around central Illinois may not have been affected by Hurricane Harvey or the storms that followed, but they have been involved in helping their fellow students in Texas, Louisiana and Florida pick up the pieces and return to class.

At the request of Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Peoria, the 43 elementary schools, high schools and academies have been participating in Student to Student: A Catholic School Response for Hurricane Relief 2017. The campaign is sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association and asks Catholic school families around the country to consider a contribution of $1 per student.

Rather than asking for straight donations, however, diocesan schools are taking creative approaches to raising the funds.

Members of the Student Council at St. Thomas School in Philo hosted a bake sale to raise money for the NCEA’s “Student to Student” campaign to assist those affected by the recent hurricanes. The sale brought in $375, bringing the Philo school’s total to $550. (Provided photo)

At Corpus Christi School in Bloomington, for example, students earned the right to don spirit wear instead of their uniforms by making a donation to the NCEA campaign. They have continued the effort, with $1,684 raised as of Sept. 19.

“We asked them, ‘What would you do if tomorrow everything was gone and you had to start over from scratch? No books, no desks — all the things we take for granted,’” said Gwenn Roche, principal. “We wanted to help them understand why we were asking them to bring money.”

She added that they encouraged the students to think of ways they could earn the money, rather than asking their parents for it so it would be a personal sacrifice.

Students at St. Thomas School in Philo will be sending $550 to the NCEA campaign as a result of two fundraisers.

The first involved a dress-down day that allowed them to wear a football shirt or jersey for a donation of $1. While there are 114 children enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade, principal Lisa Doughan reported that they raised $175 this way.

The second fundraiser was a bake sale sponsored by the Student Council, which brought in $375.

Related story: Alleman High School seniors remember the pets left behind after hurricane


For some of the schools, it was a personal connection to one of the affected classrooms or schools that prompted them to spring into action.

Because both schools are served by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, St. Jude School in Peoria partnered with St. John XXIII High School in Houston, Texas.

“Our Sisters started a new mission down there the first week of August, so we knew the hurricane was going to hit them, we just didn’t know how badly,” said Sister Maria Christi Nelson, OP, St. Jude principal.

The Texas school officials said they were hoping to help families replace textbooks that were lost in the flooding, and uniforms, Sister Maria Christi said. She added that tuition assistance is also needed since families are facing damage to their homes and have watched cars float away.

“They’re just trying to get back in their homes, let alone think about the next three to five years of where they’re going to go to school. So even though they love their school community and they love Catholic education, they have to prioritize,” she explained.

Sister Maria Christi turned to David Rudolph and his eighth grade homeroom to organize a fundraiser for their “sister-Sister school.” The students split into groups to compose an email for parents, decorate jars to place in each classroom, create posters, and talk to their younger classmates.

“We debated whether or not we should have something as a reward. At first we were going to do an out-of-uniform day for people who brought in money or have a pizza party, but we decided not to,” eighth-grader Jessica Shaner told The Catholic Post.

They decided it would be better for the students to learn “you don’t give something so you can have something back. You just give,” she said.

“We’re so fortunate to be here and not have this happen to us, and be able to help,” said Daniel Marcinak, also in eighth grade. “We have everything we could need and even want. But they don’t have food or homes. It feels good to be able to help.”

Classmate Carly Lindsey was quick to add that they were collecting prayers, too.

“Money can do a lot, but prayers can do so much more,” she said.

“I’ve really been proud of the eighth-graders for stepping up and taking care of this initiative and really running with it,” Sister Maria Christi said.

Their hard work resulted in a donation of $1,500 and countless prayers for St. John XXIII High School.


On its website, St. Catherine of Siena School in Port Arthur, Texas, notes it is committed to “Changing the World, One Kind Deed at a Time.” That is what St. Mark School in Peoria and Immaculate Conception School in Monmouth are hoping to do for them as the new academic year begins.

All three schools are members of the Latino Enrollment Institute at the University of Notre Dame. When Dr. Noreen Dillon, principal at St. Mark School, saw what Haidee Todora, principal at St. Catherine of Siena, was posting, she decided to reach out.

Second-grader Annelise Ruiz places a jar filled with donations for St. Catherine Siena School in Port Arthur, Texas, into a container held by Dr. Noreen Dillon, principal at St. Mark School in Peoria. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“They were able to save their teaching materials and technology, but they have to pull out all their carpet, lockers, floor and gym floor, and replace the freezers and refrigeration. Ceiling and roofing will need to be repaired,” Dillon told The Post. “They are looking for monetary donations since they have a $30,000 deductible for flood and the same for windstorm.”

Jars were placed in each classroom at the Peoria school and students made contributions as they were able. Dillon said the teachers have been very generous, too.

“We’ve also, of course, been including them in our prayers,” she said.

When all the jars were collected Sept. 15, St. Mark School had $1,600 to send to the Port Arthur school.

Invited to join the effort, Immaculate Conception School in Monmouth also decided a monetary donation would be best and raised $300 in one week, nearly doubling its goal. Half of the money will go to St. Catherine of Siena School and half will be given to the NCEA campaign.

Lainey Parrott, who teaches fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade math at Marquette Academy in Ottawa also made a personal connection through a website called Teachers Pay Teachers. It is designed to allow teachers to upload and share resources.

She was matched with a sixth grade classroom at Paul Revere Middle School in Houston.

“I have a sixth grade homeroom, which is kind of nice. It’s the same age,” Parrott said. “They lost pretty much everything.”

She is hoping to have a dress-down day soon, which usually requires a minimum donation of $1 to participate. “But we have great parents here, so there are quite a few that give more than $1,” according to Parrott.

She plans to send an Amazon gift card, which can be accessed online and makes it easy for the Texas teacher to buy what he needs for the classroom.

“I told them we are also going to write letters to them, just to let them know we’re thinking of them and we’re doing our best to help with what we can,” Parrott said. “It might not be everything, but every little bit, we’re hoping, can help.”

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