By BRENDA ALMENAS
Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
Saint Mother Teresa is the patron saint of our 3-4th grade class here at Our Lady of the Valley Catholic School in Wasilla and this particular quote became a call to action after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.
I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Although I have now lived more on the mainland than in Puerto Rico, this enchanted island will always be considered my home.
About half of my immediate relatives still live on the island, so when Hurricane Maria — a category four cyclone — made landfall in Puerto Rico my heart sank. The island, 100 miles long by 35 miles wide, was hit with what was described as a 60-mile-wide tornado with sustained winds of 155 miles an hour for over 30 hours! With no electricity, internet or cell phone towers working during and after such a catastrophic event, it was “mission impossible” to get an update on my family. It took two weeks before I could actually get a hold of my father and younger sister. During that time my students here in Wasilla joined me in prayer for my family and those affected by the destructive hurricane.
Weeks went by and I felt overwhelmed and hopeless. Then, a few of my students’ parents asked how they might help. We thought of collecting items and mailing them, but the shipment cost was outrageous. Time went by and things were not improving in Puerto Rico, and the people affected had become yesterday’s news. By October, I learned of the “Adopt a Family in PR” project. During parent-teacher conferences, I asked my students’ parents if they would support the idea of adopting a family in need because of the hurricane. They all agreed, so I looked more into the project. It turned out to be a much bigger commitment than I felt comfortable asking from my school parents. However, Mrs. De Quesada, my math teacher from when I attended Catholic school in Puerto Rico, replied to an email I had sent her and she described in detail the kind of help families still desperately needed.
Mrs. De Quesada still teaches at my old school and she said two of the school’s families had lost everything — their homes, even their clothes. One family of four, the Angueiras, was still sleeping on the floor. They have two children, a 9-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy. I shared this with my students, and we decided to “adopt” the Angueiras family.
The plan was simply to raise funds and mail the money. Alas, my students quickly did the math and concluded that our class of 12 students would not be able to raise a significant amount of money. The next day, during our school staff meeting, I shared our class-outreach with my principal and school staff and we agreed to open the project to the entire school as well as to parishioners of Sacred Heart Church of Wasilla.
As a Catholic school, we make a point of ministering to each other, whether our brothers and sisters in Christ are in Alaska or elsewhere. With that mindset that Our Lady of the Valley embraced the Angueira family. Our Administrative Assistant Karen Smith and our Principal Joyce Lund brainstormed ways to raise funds quickly. The solution: a bake sale during the vendor’s fair! We spoke with the president of our parent volunteer organization, Mrs. Benshetler. Parents promptly sent out text messages asking for baked goods to sell that coming Saturday. The effort was then left in God’s hands.
By Friday, all kinds of baked goods started to trickle in. During the vendor’s fair after the weekend Masses at Sacred Heart we sold a plethora of baked donations, even “polvorones” (Puerto Rican shortbread cookies).
Our parish priest, Father Joseph McGilloway, supported us and personally invited the parishioners to stop by our table to help with fundraising efforts. By Nov. 20, two months after Hurricane Maria made landfall, we had raised $1,300 between donations for baked goods and other gifts.
Mother Teresa also said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one.” Thanks to the generosity and baking abilities of our school parents, grandparents, students, alumni, staff, generous Sacred Heart parishioners, our priest and the vendor fair participants, our school was able to make Mother Teresa’s words a reality through the corporal works of mercy.
The amount raised was a fantastic start, but more is needed. We invite you to help the Angueira family as well as the other family. You can mail your donations directly to the school at the address below. Please make out checks or money orders payable to the school principal, Mrs. Celia Santos. She will handle buying the appropriate items needed for the families.