QUEENSLAND Catholic schools are stepping up their winter efforts for the poor by standing in solidarity with the homeless.
Primary and secondary school students from schools that include All Saints’ Parish Primary School, Albany Creek; St Eugene College, Burpengary; and Holy Cross School, Wooloowin, have slept “rough” to raise awareness of and funds for the homeless.
As part of their St Vincent de Paul Winter Appeal, 23 Mini Vinnies from Holy Cross School, Wooloowin, and Holy Rosary School, Windsor “slept out” on July 20 to gain a better understanding of being homeless.
Pastoral care worker Josephite Sister Anne Cannon said it was inspiring to join the children who had given up their usual Friday-night activities to take part.
“For some it meant going to footy and then coming back,” she said.
For others it meant going to swim training early on Saturday morning without a good night’s sleep.
“For all, it meant eating soup as a main meal, having Weet Bix or toast for breakfast and sleeping on a hard floor.”
It was the third consecutive year students at Xavier Catholic College, Hervey Bay, participated in the St Vincent de Paul School Sleep Out and, despite the chilly night, 20 students and five staff took part.
Xavier Catholic College teacher Roxanne Hawes said the group was joined by Hervey Bay St Vincent de Paul Society president Brian Gibbon and invited guests from the Xavier community who had worked with families, young people and individuals who had faced some sort of homelessness in their lives.
“The group shared soup, which was made and donated by the school’s ‘Magis Minis’ group (consisting of students in Years 4-7), whilst hearing about the plight of those in need in our local community,” she said.
Ms Hawes said several of Xavier’s senior students shared their recent experiences of a street retreat in Brisbane.
“(They also spoke about) the people, places and organisations they spent time with in May over a four-day period understanding poverty, its causes and what we can do as young people to help, listen and give dignity to those who experience it,” she said.
The sleep-out at St Eugene College, Burpengary, attracted 45 students aged 12 to 17.
Lachlan Bramley and Ben Morris, from Year 7, said participants formed small groups and made a cardboard box shelter to see what it would be like to live as a homeless person.
“This activity was very fun, but challenging at the same time,” they said.
The boys said that, after various activities, it was time to call it a night.
“We soon went to bed and slept uncomfortably on the ground, which made us appreciate our own beds at home,” they said.
“We then woke up to find teachers cooking us a hot breakfast. After the delicious breakfast we packed our bags and got ready to leave.
“The St Eugene College sleep-out was a great experience for us and now we know what homelessness is like and how people on the street live.”
The sleep-out at All Saints’ Parish Primary School, Albany Creek, was a culmination to the Year 7 students’ unit of work in Religion, Justice versus Just Us.
Assistant principal for religious education Simon Mahaffy said about 30 students participated in the sleepover that allowed students and the school community to connect on a personal level with the issue of homelessness.
He said that, during the Friday-night event, students gathered for a simple meal of soup then listened to a presentation from a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society team before engaging in reflection and meditation time.
Mr Mahaffy said All Saints’ was able to present the local Vinnies conference with a cheque for $1500.
“Also that evening our Year 7′s put together 780 care packs that contained tea, sugar, soup and a cup that will be donated to a variety of the St Vincent de Paul Society drop-in centres in Brisbane,” he said.
“This will provide a simple meal for a person who otherwise would have gone hungry.”
Mr Mahaffy said it was a worthwhile experience for those students involved.