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Nov29TueLocal high school staff and students help their neighbours at the Thunder Bay Salvation Army food bank November 29, 2011 by Julia Hosking
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- Territorial News
A conversation about a wall mural snowballed into an extreme makeover at The Salvation Army's Thunder Bay, Ont., food bank earlier this year. Students, staff and volunteers in Grades 9 to 12 from the nearby St. Ignatius High School worked together to restore dignity to the social centre.
“Before the makeover, it was hard to make people feel good about themselves when they came into the food bank because they were coming into such a nasty looking place,” says Cathy Oleschuk, program director, Thunder Bay Community and Residential Services. “But now, it is a pleasure to be there.”
For a number of years, the religious education teacher at St. Ignatius, Marcia Vaillant, has been connecting with The Salvation Army on various projects, such as having students knit scarves for distribution on the Army's soup van or writing Christmas cards for the correctional centre. When Vaillant, her husband—the school's music teacher—and the art teacher, visited the food bank as part of another volunteer project with the ministry of education, “Who is My Neighbour,” they saw the desperate appearance of the centre.
“We visited The Salvation Army to discuss the art class creating a mural for the wall in the food bank area,” explains Vaillant. “But my husband said, 'You don't need a mural, you need a whole overhaul; a complete makeover.' Afterwards, we discovered a grant available through the Canadian Teacher's Federation that funded social action projects for students to get involved in the community.”
The school received the grant and the project grew from there. Classes commenced a “penny collection,” receiving $1,200, while teachers sourced donations of paint and a truck for storing the food bank items for the time that the work was being done.
“I don't have rebuild skills, but I was able to use my organizational skills and access people who are experts in their fields,” says Vaillant. “The drafting teacher designed the layout of the makeover, the welding teacher made shelves at the school with the students and the art class created an indoor mural about dignity, a mosaic for outside, which says 'food bank,' and stained glass windows to go beside the entrance door. The food bank is now a much more beautiful space for people to access food and help.”
“The school also built a wall to separate where the people come in and where we store the food, a counter that we do the intakes at and a nice display area for the clothing and books we distribute,” adds Oleschuk. “The volunteers re-painted and a custodian from the school stayed until midnight one evening washing and waxing the floor.”
Students spent time at the food bank during school hours on the Friday of the makeover, with many returning on Saturday along with almost 30 staff members, support workers and school alumni.
“Through participation in this project, the staff and students have realized how they can make a difference here in their city,” observes Vaillant. “It's easy to discuss poverty in developing countries, but when you look at local poverty, people can become judgmental. This project was a perfect opportunity for me to open up the students' minds to the needs of those around them within the school community who are invisibly poor and teachers have realized they can take their students outside of the classroom setting and connect with their neighbours.”
The impact of the makeover has also been felt by clients at the food bank.
“The week after the work was complete, I watched one client come in to the food bank, look around, go back out the door, stand there for a minute, come in again and say to me, 'I thought I was in the wrong place,' ” recalls Oleschuk. “I replied, 'This is our grand makeover; isn't it beautiful?' She then said, with tears in her eyes, 'I can't believe that school kids would do all of this for people like me.' ”
Learn more about the community projects at St. Ignatius High School.