At St. John the Evangelist Church on Fredericton’s north side, food is their thing. They have an apple pie fundraiser every fall that produces 2,700 pies in five days. They have an industrial kitchen and a fleet of gifted cooks. If you’ve ever had a meal there, chances are it was delicious.
But what happens when a worldwide pandemic pretty much forbids you to feed others? You get creative — or rather, the Holy Spirit does.
That has led the parish to collect $1,500 to help pay the student fees of children in a neighbourhood school. That’s fees taken care of for 37 students.
This all began last winter when the Rev. Paul Ranson, rector of St. John’s, was preparing a report for a parish meeting. Try as he might, he could not keep his mind on the task at hand. All he could think about was the neighbourhood school down the street. There was something to be done there. He just didn’t know what it was, so he paid a visit.
“I met with the principal and said, ‘I need to know how many kids go to school hungry every day?’”
The answer was about 100 — of the 300 K-to-5 children at Nashwaaksis Memorial School. So Paul began putting together a plan to use their kitchen, recruit nearby churches and volunteers, and provide a warm breakfast five days a week.
“I got churches to partner with us,” he said. “I was getting this all lined up when COVID hit. Then I just stopped.”
More recently, as his church was planning for fall, someone asked, ‘what are we doing for the school.’
“Nothing,” was his reply.
“But then I remembered the principal saying, ‘If you could do a fundraiser to help pay the student fees, that would be great.’”
Student fees are a large expense in low-income families. At $40 a child, it’s a lot of cash out the door just when they’re also buying school supplies and clothes for back-to-school. It’s simply too much for some families, and in some cases, it’s the teachers who make up the difference.
So Paul simply asked his parish to help fund this project.
“I said we know there 100 kids going to school hungry every day,” he said. “We can’t make food for them during COVID, but we can help sponsor the student fees.
“We raised $1,500 in two weeks,” he said. “It just kept coming and coming. I felt we might get two or three hundred dollars — 500 max.
“The church was super keen to support this. The principal and vice-principal couldn’t believe it!
“What is God calling us to do? Right now it’s to bless this school. It really points to the spirit of our church. They have a heart to love this community and I love them for it. They care for others like they’re family.”
Whenever food sharing becomes acceptable again, Paul wants to pick up his plans for breakfasts. But it probably won’t be only breakfast.
He got some advice from Erin Rideout, who runs the Inner City Youth Ministry in Saint John and has plenty of experience in feeding children. She told him feeding kids is the first step, but there is much more that can and needs to be done.
“We’re hoping we’ll be able to offer a breakfast program of some sort, but we want to do educational things. We have a great kitchen and incredible cooks. I can see that happening as well, but that will all be post-COVID.”
In the meantime, there are many parents in the neighbourhood who don’t have to worry about student fees, because of the generous hearts of Christians up the street.
PHOTO CAPTION: The Rev. Paul Ranson, left, delivers a cheque to Nashwaaksis Memorial School principal Jackie Hay and vice-principal Alex Yaychuk recently, after Paul’s congregation raised $1,500 to pay the student fees of children whose families cannot afford it. This was in lieu of a breakfast program Paul had wanted to start for students just before the pandemic hit. SUBMITTED PHOTO