By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published April 2, 2020
LILBURN–Lisa Olwine packed her pickup truck with seven boxes filled with sandwiches and three boxes of fresh fruit Thursday, March 26. She drove from the suburbs of Gwinnett County to downtown Atlanta bound for Clyde’s Kitchen.
Her cargo for women and men of Atlanta in need included more than 1,000 homemade sandwiches and the fruit.
She delivered the food, knowing how challenging it was for families at St. John Neumann Regional School to find everything to build the sandwiches.
“Literally it was hard. All the sliced cheese was gone. I think people had a hard time finding the makings of the sandwiches. We did the best we could with what we had,” she said.
What they delivered was welcomed. Olwine said Clyde’s Kitchen was forced to close a few days without food to hand over to hungry people. Even when open, the dining room is closed to maintain social distancing guidelines, and they make packaged meals for pick up.
People are still hungry. That’s what the community at St. John Neumann Regional School knows. That’s why they answered the need during Lent.
They are just one of the Catholic churches and schools responding to the pandemic. Through the work of volunteers at St. Andrew Church, Roswell, some 50 bags were delivered to people’s homes.
The Lilburn school twice brought its community together in service to others while families are dispersed and the building closed.
First, they hosted a drive for the food bank on the feast of St. Joseph, March 19. It was day four of school being closed. Families were encouraged to think about food and household goods missing off store shelves and try to donate those items from their own pantries.
Families arrived by cars and minivans to drop their contributions into bins and return home. The donations will end up on the shelves of the parish food pantry. They’ve also continued to support Clyde’s Kitchen, a downtown Atlanta ministry that offers meals to women and men in need.
“It’s given the kids an opportunity to think of others,” principal Julie Broom said.
Broom is finding signs of hope, while still heartbroken to be away from students. The distance deepens the lessons of Lent and leaning on Jesus, she said.
“This time we are walking it with him. It is not comfortable. It is hard to do,” but as Jesus came out of the desert to begin his ministry, the community experience can be transforming, she said.
A phone call alerted Broom the school’s efforts were still sorely needed. Clyde’s Kitchen is a mission trip for eighth graders to spend time at the ministry.
She also knows lending a hand to the ministry is a big day on the school calendar. There’s a competitive spirit to create 3,000 sandwiches when students and parents are together.
But how to do it when people are away?
“It’s such a giant community day. People are sad we couldn’t do it together.”
Instead of giving up, student families prepared sandwiches of meat and cheese in their own kitchen. They wrapped them and delivered them to the school.
Olwine is a volunteer leading the school’s mission effectiveness committee. Two of her children have graduated from the school, with the third in sixth grade.
Just because families are separated, it doesn’t mean they cannot work together.
It’s especially important in Lent for students and families to work for others, said Olwine.
“Serving always gets you thinking outside yourself,” she said. “It gives you hope. Your life is turned upside down, but you are able to serve someone whose life is also turned upside down, to a great degree. It keeps things in perspective.”
The Cruz family–Melissa, Jorge, and their two daughters, Christina and Emma Sophia–are loyal servants, always participating in school activities. They donated items for the food drive and the sandwich making.
Melissa said the family was disappointed to be away from friends but know they are aiding others.
“What we do is talk about what we are thankful for,” she said.
The living room at the Dutkin household was transformed into a sandwich-making factory. There, Nhien and Roger and their two children, Delaney and Alana, went to work making the lunch meal.
“Despite what’s going on with the virus, there are still people going hungry,” said Nhien. “We also want to teach our children the value of giving back and volunteering to support people in need.”