Students in St. Ann School, Lawrenceville, add coins to the Penny Jar during last year’s Hearts to Hospitals service project. The money was used to buy gift cards for hospitalized children and their families. Courtesy photo
Students in St. Ann School, Lawrenceville, add coins to the Penny Jar during last year’s Hearts to Hospitals service project. The money was used to buy gift cards for hospitalized children and their families. Courtesy photo

By Christina Leslie | Correspondent

Once again, the Diocese of Trenton’s Catholic elementary schools will dedicate themselves to fulfilling a community-minded single service project to enrich the lives of hospitalized children and their families.

The project, titled “Hearts to Hospitals: Hearts to Lead – Hands to Help,” enables schoolchildren in each of the Diocese’s 31 elementary schools to donate get-well cards, small gifts and gift cards from local vendors to those undergoing care in hospitals and their families throughout the four counties, with the goal of making time there more comfortable.

The service project in which each school teams with the larger community reinforces what Catholic education is all about, maintains its coordinator, Judy A. Nicastro of the diocesan Department of Catholic Schools. Moreover, “Hearts To Hospitals [teaches] our students about everything surrounding children’s health issues and their subsequent experiences, and opens up students’ awareness of all the various professionals that work toward making the lives of sick children better,” Nicastro said.

The 2018 project reaped rich rewards for the hospitalized children and their families. At a May 3 news conference, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., blessed the collection of more than 10,000 items and $13,000 in cash and gift cards, which were distributed by student ambassadors over the following months. But the students, too, benefited from the endeavor, Nicastro maintained.

“The spirit of teamwork was vital, and having students from each school at last year’s press conference really helped to illustrate that… they were a team,” she said, “a team that succeeded in helping kids who needed it.”

Collections and activities for Hearts to Hospitals are underway in schools in preparation for this year’s donation. Craig Palmer, principal in St. Mary School, Middletown, noted the project prompted the theme for their Holy Thursday retreat – sacrificial love.

“Cards and blankets are being made, prayers are being offered, games and gift cards are being collected, and we have reached out to the parish for further donations and support,” Palmer said of the project helmed by the school’s Spanish teacher and religion coordinator, Rosemary Marchak.

“It is a cornerstone of our Catholic teaching ‘to love others as I have loved you,’” he said.

According to Teresa Makin, marketing director in Holy Cross School, Rumson, the students collected more than 450 gifts and combined them into 125 gift bags for children in area hospitals.

“We aim to do even better this year,” she said, noting that during the week of April 29 to May 3, eighth-grade student ambassadors will each be assigned a homeroom where they will visit their younger counterparts to talk about the importance of Hearts to Hospitals. Students in all grades are creating greeting cards, with the youngest grades working together to create small posters of thanks for doctors and nurses. All grades will also participate in a “no-sew” activity during their art classes, and on May 3, the student ambassadors will collect the donation boxes from their assigned homerooms and assemble them into gift bags for hospitalized children of various ages.

Tracey Kobrin, principal, and Lynn Faugno, school nurse and alumni parent, gave an update on how students in St. Peter School, Point Pleasant Beach, have been preparing for the 2019 Hearts to Hospitals project.

“This event is something that touches the lives of so many,” Faugno said, then noted how responsibility is one the 3Rs the community abides by in St. Peter School, with the other two being, respect and reverence. “Serving our community is at the forefront of our mission.”

Kobrin added, “As our mission statement says, we provide a community of faith in which our students will develop spiritually, intellectually, physically, socially and emotionally. Any form of community service we participate in we take seriously and encourage school wide participation.”

In anticipation of this year’s collection, Faugno said a variety of events have been held to raise funds to purchase the items needed for the comfort bags. The events included a jelly bean guess, a dance-a-thon and a day when student could dress as their favorite book character.

“With 100 percent participation, we are convinced our students are committed to this cause,” she said.

“Hearts to Hospitals is the perfect example of service and outreach in the community,” declared Alessandra Fallon, director of admission and marketing in St. Ann School, Lawrenceville.

The school community is creating unique get-well and thank you cards and enlarging the scope of their Penny Jar collection from a single donation point to a jar in every classroom, Fallon reported. Members of the student council and PTA board will conduct a three-day bake sale with proceeds to be used to purchase gift cards, and students will visit area businesses to raise awareness of the project.

“Hearts to Hospitals was very successful last year,” Fallon noted. “When we reintroduced it this time, people were eager to help this cause again.”