While their friends are enjoying home-cooked meals and the company of their family, several St. Ursula students and teachers are delivering food to the homeless in Toledo. Each Monday, the group participates in the Labre project, named after the Catholic saint Benedict Joseph Labre, who lived a life of poverty and pilgrimage.
Zoe Carl helps one of the Little Sisters of the Poor get ready to distribute packages. Photo courtesy of St. Ursula Academy.
For three years, the girls, in collaboration with students at St. John's Jesuit High School, meet to prepare meals for more than 100 hungry Toledoans. There is something hot, such as chili or casseroles, every week, as well as lunch meat and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. When the meals are ready to go, the students and the adults who accompany them meet in their school chapel for a brief prayer service, then load the meals into vans for delivery. The group stops at three locations, two in South Toledo, and one in East Toledo, and serves the meals between 5:30 and 7:00 p.m.
One student in each van is assigned the job of recording the stories of the people the students meet, and, after all meals have been distributed, students return to school and pray for those they have befriended that night. It is those friendships that touch the students the most.
Director Mark Dubielak explains, "Besides simply feeding hungry people, Labre is really about building relationships. Students who go on a regular basis can verify this. They know one another better and over time they get to know our regular 'guests' that we serve week to week. Our adults (many of them teachers at SUA or SJJ) enjoy getting to know the students better, too, and like that the students are seeing them in a different way as they work alongside each other."
St. Ursula student Abigail Dudek helps feed others by participating in the Labre project. Photo courtesy of St. Ursula Academy.
Given the life situations of many of the "guests," the students come face to face with broken families, persons living with addictions, and many suffering as a result of unemployment or health concerns, and they are sobered by the experience. Senior Cara Pearson advises that "Labre isn't for the emotional...There have been many times I have come home from a Labre where I have sobbed to my parents about how terrible I feel about having exponentially more than I need when some people can't keep their heads above water. Labre raises a lot of questions for me, such as why I was born into a comfortable lifestyle and others were not, or how people who have everything can end up having nothing."
She continues, "The hardest stories to hear from the patrons are those about people who have had successful careers can comfortable lives before x, y, or z happened to them, and they ended up in poverty. It's scary to think that everything can be fine one day, then a few months later you could have your world turned upside down. So, in a way, Labre feels like my way of giving back because of how blessed I have been."
Dubielak notes that the success of the SUA/SJJ program has spurred other schools to join the effort to feed the hungry in Toledo. A group of students from Lourdes University goes to the same stops on Wednesdays that the SUA group visits on Mondays. SUA has invited Notre Dame Academy, St. Francis de Sales High School and Central Catholic High School students to join the effort, and Dubielak hopes those schools will be part of the Labre program.
Additionally, a class of pharmacy students from Findlay University joins the SUA group every Monday. They do blood pressure checks, check blood sugar levels, and talk with people about managing their wide range of health problems.
Cara Pearson sums up the Labre philosophy, "Labre is about so much more than the service hours. Obviously, the program improves the lives of those we serve, so Labre makes me feel like I am actually making a difference in the world. Labre makes me feel like I'm not the typical teenager who wasted high school away, but rather that I used such a formative time in my life to better the world and make a difference to the impoverished people of our community."