St. Joe’s Stuff-a-Bus is ‘us being third’

By Emily Clark

TRUMBULL— “Still hungry.” Even after an abundance of donated goods stocked pantries and soup kitchens during the holiday season, these words describe thousands of residents throughout Fairfield County, hungry for food to sustain them through the winter.

Even after continued service to their communities during the school year, these words describe hundreds of students at St. Joseph High School, hungry to keep on helping their neighbors. And this was the motivation behind the Trumbull high school’s largest in-person service event in three years, culminating in the first annual “Still Hungry” Stuff-a-Bus food drive.

Beginning on Ash Wednesday, students and families started piling bags of canned goods and boxes of cereal in the front lobby of school. Then, on Saturday, February 25 from 8 am to 3 pm, the drive was opened to the public so members of the community could contribute as well.

The result was four St. Joe’s buses filled with non-perishables and ready for delivery to the Bridgeport Rescue Mission, Sterling House Community Center in Stratford, St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank in Derby, and the Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport.

Deacon Jeff Font, director of campus ministry at the school, said this project resonated with his students who were looking for additional opportunities to serve.

“The pantries are depleted,” he said. “When I asked around about what was needed, they always said ‘food.’ So many (in this area) go to bed hungry. It’s such a huge number, so we thought about what we could do.”

To increase donations and community engagement, St. Joe’s partnered local Catholic elementary schools and area businesses. At St. Mark School in Stratford and Holy Trinity School in Shelton, young students had their own food drives then brought the goods to St. Joe’s.

Parents offered to involve their workplaces by setting up boxes for donations, and other organizations such as the Stamford Medical Group and Nabisco made significant contributions. Volunteers could also provide gift cards or sponsor a seat on the bus with a monetary donation.

“We’re all under the same Catholic umbrella and want to live the Gospels,” Deacon Font said. “Christ reminds us to ‘love thy neighbor’ which connects to our motto of ‘God first, others second, I am third.’ It’s a way of almsgiving, a Lenten mission. And this,” he added, nodding toward the collection of food, “is us being third.”

Seniors Teagan Cavaliere and Stephanie Alves agreed. As peer ministers and members of a theology class who work with Campus Ministry, they played a role in coordinating this project through publicity efforts and organizing collections in their own communities of Stamford and Oxford.

“We’re putting our mission into action with an emphasis on charity,” said Cavaliere.

For those benefitting from these donations, they couldn’t have come at a better time. Leanne Reynolds, the director of resource connections at Sterling House, said her staff was sorting through their last canned goods from Thanksgiving and welcomed the delivery from St. Joe’s.

“I’m amazed at how much was donated. This was awesome!” Reynolds said, adding that they were especially grateful for the variety of donated goods including condiments and bags of flour and sugar. “It’s really so thoughtful. The amount of food we got will go a long way to fill our shelves and better help the families we serve.”

The success of the Stuff-a-Bus drive has prompted Deacon Font and his students to make this an annual event, continuing to assist those who rely so heavily on these resources.

“There is a need right here in our backyard,” he said, “And it’s not going away.”

Though the students and volunteers who stuffed the buses on that chilly February afternoon said that they are “still hungry,” many residents in neighboring communities are not, all because of the generosity of others.