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Mount St. Joseph Academy's 'Project Help'

One of Mount St. Joseph Academy Principal Sarah Fortier’s favorite times at the Rutland Catholic high school is the time just before Christmas when the whole school is engaged in the annual Project Help.
“We’re giving back to the community, and it’s a fun service project,” she said of the drive to collect food and children’s gifts then prepare boxes for people in need at Christmas.
This year marked the 48th annual Project Help.
It serves about 100 families referred by Vermont Catholic Charities Inc.
“It’s a representation of the whole season of Advent – giving and doing for others,” Fortier said.
Teams of students and chaperones canvass the city, asking for donations or simply picking up the food donors have left for them.
Some people make monetary donations to supplement what is needed to fill the boxes for distribution; businesses also make monetary and in-kind donations.
Once the collection phase is completed, students – and even some alumni who value the project -- pack the boxes for delivery or pick up later that day or the next.
Boxes include a turkey or chicken, age-appropriate children’s gifts, bread, potatoes and nonperishables.
This year Project Help took place Dec. 20 and 21.
“This is a real reminder of how fortunate we are and to do what Jesus told us: Care about those who have less,” said Fortier, a 1999 Mount St. Joseph Academy graduate who was a student leader of Project Help.
Her parents, Elaine (Class of 1964) and John (Class of 1966) Bride, have long supported Project Help. This year they brought 40 boxes of cereal to the school gym during the collection process. Fortier told them that was a needed item.
 “Jesus taught us to give back and help those in need,” Mrs. Bride said.
Plus, the Brides are big supporters of the school. “See our blood? It’s green!” she said with a laugh, referring to the school color.
Another MSJ alum, Adam DeBlasio, Class of 2012, participated this year in his 10th Project Help. He said he could not imagine being anywhere else while the project was happening. “It’s so engrained in my brain,” he said. “I enjoy helping MSJ. It’s a great community.”
The school, as well as Boy Scouts, instilled in him the importance of giving back to the community.
MSJ sophomore Tori Tracy of Christ the King Parish in Rutland said Project Help is her favorite school activity. She likes collecting with friends, but what’s even better, she said, is distributing the boxes of food and gifts. “The smile on [recipients’] faces lets you know you made their holiday season better,” she said. “If you reversed the situation, you’d want people to do for you.”
Senior Mackenzie C. Traska of Christ the King Parish, vice president of Student Government, was in the gym keeping track of who was out canvassing and what areas of the city were covered. “The mood is very cheery. People love helping,” she said.
“Everyone wants to help,” added classmate Benjamin E. DeCota, senior class representative to Student Government. “The spirit of giving is emphasized here. Everyone want to give rather than take…. The whole giving and living out Christ’s mission is emphasized here.”
“Christmas is not about yourself,” Mackenzie said. “It’s about giving.”
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