by Al Ebach, C.PP.S, with Kara McNamara, Precious Blood Volunteer
backpackProgramWhen I (Fr. Al) arrived at Crownpoint, NM I was asked by the diocese of Gallup to be the spiritual director for St. Bonaventure Catholic School, operated and financed by an independent board of St. Bonaventure Mission, which has been in operation for almost forty years. During my first visit I was enthusiastically welcomed by the staff and students. As I began to visit the children I noticed that about ninety-five percent of the children were Navajo and most of them were not Catholic. They all participate at Mass and seemed to have a deep hunger to learn about the Catholic tradition, incorporating many of their native traditions. When attending the St. Bonaventure program the children know that the Catholic faith is the base of all they are and do on campus. They love to pray and worship at the Thursday morning Mass.
I was quite impressed with the spirituality, which seems to be the engine that drives the program. Many students who have participated in this program have become successful citizens. As I began to get more involved in the lives of the children I noticed that many of them come from tremendous poverty. The principal informed me that the children return from the weekend famished, constantly asking for food. When I investigated this further I discovered that many students have very little to eat during a weekend while with parents or grandparents. Many of the teachers, who have housing provided in a trailer court as part of their salary, shared with me that during the weekend school children come to their trailers asking for a slice of cheese or anything to hold them over for the day. About three weeks into parish life Kara, our Precious Blood Volunteer, and I brainstormed possibilities of feeding the children. We began researching the Backpack program,
which is a national organization that provides food for children during the days they are not in school. We are providing food for our hungry children beginning next week. The staff is extremely excited about this service.
Thanks to our province leadership who have graciously agreed to support Kara and me in our efforts to provide food for the hungry children. We were expecting to provide food for about fifteen children. Today the principal informed us that they have forty children teachers and counselors have selected as recipients of the Backpack program. Funding for this program averages around $160 per student per year. Kara and I continue to request funding through a variety of resources. After discussing this project with a number of companions and members many of them suggested to invite members, companions and friends to participate in this endeavor. This is merely an invitation to people who may be interested in such a charitable cause as this. People may want to make a one-time donation or they may be open to making a monthly contribution. If interested please send checks to St. Paul Mission – Backpack Program, PO Box 268, Crownpoint, NM, 87313. Eventually Kara and I hope to have this program operated by volunteers at the school. It is great to have support from the province to help feed the hungry on the Navajo reservation. Thank you for listening to our story.