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“Christian school students pack lunches"

Amy Armstrong
Award of Outstanding Merit - $1,000

Amy Armstrong has written for the Chugiak-Eagle River Star since 1999. Her family has lived in the local area since 1999 when her husband retired from the United States Coast Guard. Amy has worked permanently from home to accommodate the needs of her autistic son. She is the winner of more than 40 Alaska state journalism awards and strongly believes those awards belong to her readers.

 © Reprinted with permission.  Chugiak-Eagle River Star; Eagle River, AK;  published 12/2/2015

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ER Christian School students pack lunches for Brother Francis

A group of local elementary students did something most adults never have or will.

They intentionally moved out of their comfort zone and fed the homeless hanging out on the downtown Anchorage streets outside of the Brother Francis Shelter.

They say – without prompting from their teachers – that they did what Jesus would do if he lived in Eagle River in a safe home provided by their parents with food on the table knowing that others only a few short miles away don’t have a bed to call their own or a lunch packed by their mom.

Actually, for the third, fourth and fifth grade students at Eagle River Christian School, their actions weren’t nearly as complicated as that last sentence.

In their minds, they just gave food to homeless people who were hungry. 

“I felt happy because they had something to eat now,” Krista Blank, a third grader, said when talking with The Star about the class field trip turned philanthropy lesson. 

On Friday, Nov. 20, the students prepped 125 brown bag lunches complete with lunch-meat sandwiches, a bag of chips and a bottle of water. 

Their teachers – Jerah Newbill and Mary Remer – along with more than half of their parents loaded up in private vehicles and drove to a part of town that most of them don’t frequent on a regular basis.

They weren’t sure where they were going to park.

They weren’t sure what to expect once they arrived. This was a first for the school and its staff and students.

Michelle Caldwell, the school’s vice principal did call ahead to run the idea of elementary-age students passing out sack lunches by administrators at the shelter and at nearby Bean’s Café where many of the city’s homeless receive meals. 

“They told us that we could not give out the lunches within the shelter or the café, but that regulations allowed us to distribute on the sidewalk directly across,” Caldwell said. “They also told us to let them know when we were coming and they would have someone on the lookout for us.”

Not that either agency could provide official security or escorts, Caldwell said. But knowing that folks familiar with happenings on that city block would keep an unofficial watch made her feel more secure about the elementary field trip.

These were, after all, eight and nine-year-old kids going to visit a section town well known as an area where the effects of alcoholism, drug abuse and prostitution are regularly on display without a child-friendly filter. Several incidents of “Spice” overdose have occurred right where the students were headed.

“We definitely talked this over with the parents and this was not going to happen without their full support,” Caldwell said. “But in the end, we all agreed that Jesus would have gone there. So, why shouldn’t we?” 

For Deb Morton, whose son was on the trip, said the field trip represented the opportunity to practice the Christian mandate in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (New International Version)  

“It was an absolutely wonderful experience for my son” she said. 

It raised awareness in him that no amount of talking about homeless could, she said.

“He was most shocked to see a person sleeping outside the facility as we were leaving,” Morton said. “He said he felt bad for that person and could we bring blankets next time, too.”

That response is excellent news to his teacher. 

Remer, the third grade teacher, was brainstorming a fall class field trip idea when the notion of bringing sack lunches to the homeless came to mind.

“Our field trips are always something fun,” she said. “I wanted the students to enjoy it but I also thought that with Thanksgiving approaching, perhaps that fun should be combined with doing something for our community. This is a Christian school. We should go out and serve others. Even if we are only in the third grade.” 

Her class teamed up with the fourth and fifth grade students in Newbill’s room and prepared for an adventure that would include street interaction as well as a tour of the shelter giving students a first-hand look at the nitty-gritty reality of being homeless.

The 20-plus students in the two classrooms admit it was a bit intimidating to be approached by strangers – some smelly, some very dirty, some missing teeth – that gathered around them on the sidewalk once they knew the students had food.

But after handing out the first sack lunch, the perceived concern went away.

“At first, they kinda scared me,” Noah Guderian said. “But then after I gave away the first bag and they thanked me, it wasn’t scary anymore.” 

Michaela King, a fifth-grader, said the field trip gave her the opportunity to put her faith in action.

“I thought this would be fun because we would be the hand and feet of God to help give them another chance,” she said.

King talked about Bible verses that tell Christians that if they feed hungry people, it is as if they were helping Jesus himself.

King was referencing the New Testament Scripture of Matthew 25:34-40 in which the Biblical Judgment Day heavenly reward promised to those who care for others on Earth is explained.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 

“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” – Matthew 25:34-40 (New International Version)

It’s a lot of theology, but for the students it translated in to the simple action of giving a meal to someone that did not have one before. Several students said they would like to repeat. 

“I was pretty excited to go see them (the homeless),” Alyssa Dodson, a third-grader said. “I hope our teacher will take us again because it was very nice to make them smile.”

Learn more about the Brother Francis Shelter and Bean’s Café online at www.cssalaska.org/our-programs/brother-francis-shelter and www.beanscafe.org, respectively. 

 © Reprinted with permission.  Chugiak-Eagle River Star; Eagle River, AK;  published 12/2/2015

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