By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Fifty-two youths from across Iowa and Illinois came to the Quad-City area July 23-27 to do service through Just 5 Days. This national program is sponsored by the Center for Ministry Development and coordinated locally by Mary Ellen Pfeiffer.
Program sites are offered across the U.S. and are open to youths entering seventh, eighth and ninth grade, said Pfeiffer. The youths are registered through a Catholic parish or school as part of a team with at least one adult age 25 or older as a team leader. The five-day program includes service, prayer and talks.
Pfeiffer, who has organized the Quad-City program for five years, said that when she first started she had to do a lot of cold calling to find places where youths could volunteer for three days. With the various partnerships she has formed, many organizations offer to take on students year after year.
This year, St. Ann Parish in Long Grove stepped up to serve as a host site. Julia Jones, the parish’s youth minister, said the teams stayed in the education wing. “It was a great experience to host this group. It’s great to see this building so full of life during the summer. Usually we are only full on weekends so it was great to have commotion during the week. The kids and their chaperones were pretty happy. The staff of that week was very flexible and ready to help us out in any way they could.”
When a funeral was scheduled for Friday, “the group was just fantastic to deal with when we explained how we needed to get creative with space use.”
Because the host site was smaller than the one used in previous years, fewer youths were able to participate. “This is a starter mission camp for middle school students,” Pfeiffer said. “We hope they take back what they learned and increase their involvement in service” whether at the parish, school or community level.”
One important aspect of Just 5 Days is instruction about Catholic Social Teaching tailored to junior high students. They started on Monday with community building. Prayer began each day of the service project. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were on-site service days. This year, youths helped at YMCA Camp Abe Lincoln, RiverBend Foodbank, Hand in Hand, Alternatives for Older Adults, Café on Vine, Arc of the Quad Cities and East Moline (Ill.) Community Garden. The week wrapped up on Friday with discussion and Mass.
Ivy Padula of Sacred Heart Parish in Moline, Ill., brought five youths to Just 5 Days to volunteer at RiverBend Foodbank in Davenport. She chose to attend this year “because Just 5 Days teaches about Catholic Social Teaching and offers direct community service.”
Belinda Mielenhausen, volunteer coordinator at RiverBend, said this was the first time the organization has hosted Just 5 Days. RiverBend collects and distributes food to hunger relief charities in five counties in Iowa and 18 counties in Illinois. Food comes from various sources including donations, collections by schools and churches, grocery stores, the food industry and wholesalers.
The organization serves a variety of people in need – from the elderly and individuals with disabilities to families with limited incomes. Community soup kitchens, food pantries and nonprofit charitable organizations are also beneficiaries.
From July 24-26, the youths helped box food to be dropped off at two churches and one apartment complex for persons in need. Mielenhausen demonstrated how to pack the boxes so that all of items fit inside. These particular boxes contained a box of cereal, bag of oatmeal, two boxes of pasta, two cans of spaghetti sauce, three cans of crowder beans, three cans of tomatoes, three cans of sweet peas, two bags of figs and two bags of dried pinto beans. Mielenhausen also ran off copies of recipes for preparing crowder beans.
Participant Katrina Pfeiffer said it was good to serve others and be with friends. Nazaria Gustafson said she liked making a difference in the world. And Sasha Cornillaud thought Just 5 Days was fun.
To learn more about Just 5 Days visit https://www.cmdnet.org/j5d.