Children from three Harrow schools recently took part in an activity to help the homeless this winter.
The project, co-ordinated by Catholic charity, Caritas Westminster, was inspired by the Catholic “World Day of the Poor” which took place on Sunday 15 November. 180 children from three Catholic primary schools – St Teresa’s in Hatch End, St George’s in Sudbury and St Bernadette’s in Kenton – were among those from fourteen schools across London and Hertfordshire who packed winter essentials and hygiene items into “Vinnie Packs” that will be distributed by charities and community groups.
Vinnie Packs are a project of Catholic Charity the St Vincent de Paul Society who co-ordinate the distribution of these packs to homeless and other vulnerable people across the country. Caritas Westminster also helps with the storage and distribution of these packs.
It is thought that 3375 Vinnie packs have been filled by the children at the fourteen schools. Each pack contains a thermal hat and gloves, two pairs of thermal socks, a pack of wet wipes, a reusable face mask, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a pen, and an information booklet. In many cases the children wrote a short note to include in the pack, to let the recipient know that someone cares about them.
Margaret Atwill a teacher at St Teresa’s said: “The children really enjoyed the experience and it was great to see them working together as a team to get the job done in a very short time.”
Some children from St Bernadette’s have shared what they thought about the experience:
Ezel said: “I was grateful for this opportunity to help someone because I wanted to make someone happy during Winter.”
Julia said: “We were all called to serve and to be honest it did us good to see what essentials really are. Things that people need to keep safe and warm. This was at the front of my mind as we helped assemble the packs – it made me realise how lucky I am to own the things I do.”
Rachel said: “We all worked together – it was fun and great to help. I am so glad that we had this opportunity to help. If we all support people in some small way – we can make the world a better place.”
As well as the practical activity, children have been able to learn about what it means to be homeless, and about issues of social justice and the teachings of the Catholic church regarding caring for the poor and respecting the dignity of all people.
Katie McNicholas, a teacher at St Bernadette’s said: “It was wonderful to see the children come together and give something back at Christmas. It gave the children an insight into the desperate situations that so many people find themselves in – it made them appreciate what they all have.”
Among the dozens of projects which will help distribute the Vinnie Packs to those in need, is the Dad’s House Foodbank in Kensington. Dads House was originally set up to support single dads bringing up children on their own, but are now supporting families, single mums, rough sleepers and those who are in need of their foodbank. They have seen an astronomical rise in the numbers of people in hardship during the pandemic, as people were first furloughed and then made redundant – in some cases these people will also have lost their homes.
Rosa Lewis from Caritas Westminster was encouraged by the number of schools taking part in this project “We are so pleased to see the enthusiasm of these children to do something practical for World Day of the Poor, and grateful for all the teachers who have got involved – it is not an easy time for schools at the moment, so it is wonderful to see how many are still thinking about social justice, and wanting to reach out to others.”
To find out more about Caritas Westminster, you can visit www.caritaswestminster.org.uk