Once a week, the Lethbridge Herald publishes a column written by a superintendent of one of five school jurisdictions in the Lethbridge area. This week’s column is authored by Chris Smeaton, Superintendent for Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Separate Regional Division No. 4 and was published on December 3, 2014.
Now that we’ve hit December, experienced some very cold weather and had to shovel the walks once or twice, it is easy to know that Christmas is right around the corner. Our schools host weekly Advent celebrations in preparation and staff and students are busy getting ready for concerts and other Christmas activities. It is hard not to imagine that everybody is not excited about the upcoming holiday. Yet, we know that for some students and families, this time of the year is not the joyous event that most of us have come to love.
A recent report stated that child poverty in Lethbridge was the highest among Alberta’s seven major cities. Almost 1 in 5 children in this area are living in poverty. And while fundraisers like Food for Thought and donations from generous businesses and organizations assist local schools in providing breakfast programs for students, these same programs are not available during the holidays. Children go hungry and Christmas, recognized as a wonderful celebration in the Christian world, is not so special without food on the table.
Throughout the year, but especially around this holiday season, schools are involved in collecting non-perishable food items, warm clothing, mitts, toques, socks, and other necessities that most of us take for granted. They donate to local charities and contribute to organizations like Free the Children by participating in the project, “We Scare Hunger.” One of our most successful endeavours to meet the needs of families in our community around Christmas time has been Santa’s Anonymous, organized by the staff and students of Catholic Central High School. This program continues to grow and support more families each and every year and is always looking for additional donations to address the increasing need.
Schools both within Holy Spirit and in neighboring divisions have understood the poverty issue for many years and have always provided the ability for students to learn about social justice and the gift of charity. Trips to volunteer at the local food bank or soup kitchen provide students with a better awareness of the plight of the disadvantaged and marginalized in our society. It is an excellent learning opportunity for students and one that develops empathy and understanding. Through this work in social justice, we are educating students to be more involved ethical citizens, ones committed to making our communities stronger.
As we approach this Christmas season, I would challenge all of us in the community to follow the lead of our schools. Engage in social justice, experience the joy of giving, commit to ending poverty in our area, and make Christmas a joyous event for all!