122214 SJCI Food DriveEighty miles from home Friday, private school students helped hungry people they might never meet.

For the 33rd straight year, students from St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, an all-boys school in Tonawanda, made a massive food donation from their Food Basket drive to the Warming House on North Union Street. And for the third straight year, the girls at Mount St. Mary Academy in Kenmore joined the charitable fun.

The high schoolers formed a long line — 30 strong — to empty an entire delivery truck of 43,494 non-perishable food items that’ll stock the shelves at the St. Bonaventure University-operated soup kitchen for most of the next year. The schools’ donation each year represents roughly 80 percent of the Warming House’s annual food intake, said director Maggie Morris.

“I am just extremely grateful. It alleviates a lot of worry throughout the year,” Ms. Morris said. “This lasts us pretty much the entire year. They cover us with such a good variety. It includes paper goods, cleaning supplies, things that people wouldn’t necessarily think of donating, but we need them just like any household.”

On their last day of classes before winter recess, the kids noisily joked, chanted and sang songs as boxes eventually stacked the entire Warming House basement and extended to an upstairs storage area. The Buffalo Bills’ “Shout” song, impressions of actor Matthew McConaughey and speaking in funny accents made for a jovial atmosphere.

“It’s really wonderful to see the kids get so enthused about it,” Ms. Morris said.

But their work was serious.

Two days before Thanksgiving break, the St. Joe’s students began gathering stockpiles of cans of soup, vegetables and fruit, ramen noodles and much more at 7 a.m. each school day.

Over at Mount St. Mary Academy, the girls collected more than 10,000 food items for the effort.

“I will say they work their tails off,” said Martin Fedchak, a St. Joseph’s economics teacher who has advised the Food Basket drive for 28 years. “They had about 2,000 items show up one day, and by the time I turned around, they had that baby boxed up. … We had about 50 kids help out with different jobs.”

“When we got here, we were down in the basement seeing that the shelves were bare after last year’s donations,” added Caroline Polino, a Mount St. Mary teacher and program adviser. “Now, refilling for the following year is amazing. It’s a great feeling to know that we’re helping out.

“We do a lot in downtown Buffalo. As great as that is, I think it’s equally important to expose them to poverty not in their own neighborhood and to share the experience with other people.”

And Warming House patrons are highly appreciative, Ms. Morris said. Open six days a week, the soup kitchen provides meals to between 25 and 50 hungry community members daily, she added.

“They ask about the kids. They follow St. Joe’s sports and things like that,” the Warming House director said. “They really appreciate it so much, the students from Bonaventure who serve here and groups like this.

“The guests each day offer the prayer before the meal, and they mention all the volunteers and all the students that come and really learn what service is about.”

Food Basket student director Cameron Rosenecker has taken that service lesson to heart in four years with the program. The excitement builds as boxes of food accumulate, the St. Joseph’s senior said, but the humbling experience of making a difference on delivery day is the real rush.

“When we’re in Food Basket, you can feel it a little bit,” the Canisius College-bound senior said. “But when you get down here, this is the best part of it — filling their basement with food and then knowing they unload the basement during the course of the year. It really shows us that we have a big impact on the community down here.”

The 43,494 food items represented the third-highest total in Food Basket’s 44-year history, Mr. Rosenecker said. The highest contribution ever was more than 62,000.

Buffalo-area food pantries and soup kitchens also receive a piece of the overall donation.

Click here to see the article in The Olean Times Herald.