Representatives of St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton present a check for $11,750 to St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples on Dec. 8 to help pay for damages from Hurricane Irma.

Students help counterparts affected by Irma

NAPLES | In an amazing gesture of kindness and unity, the students of St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton presented a check to their counterparts at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples who are still recovering from the damages caused by Hurricane Irma.

The presentation of $11,750 took place at the conclusion of Mass Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and will be used to help with repairs from the devastating Sept. 10 hurricane. St. Joseph student council members and Principal Deborah Suddarth surprised St. Elizabeth Principal Maria Niebuhr with the amount of the check.

“We thank you for this wonderful gift,” Niebuhr said. “We are grateful for you.”

Niebuhr said the outpouring of love from people across the nation in the wake of the storm has been wonderful, “and it has also been wonderful to see the love shown from the people in our own Diocese.”

The St. Joseph group, which raised the money through bake sales, was given a tour of St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School to see firsthand the lingering signs of damage which await repairs. During the tour, the Bradenton students saw rooms without carpeting, windows that are boarded up and plastic sheets where ceiling tiles should be. They also learned from Niebuhr that it will take up to four months to complete repairs after all of the insurance claims are settled.

As a small token of gratitude, the St. Joseph group was presented with gifts including #SetonStrong T-shirts, the motto of the school as it continues to rebuild following the hurricane. They then had lunch with their counterparts which included cookies and ice cream. Niebuhr presented Suddarth with a stuffed eagle, the mascot of Seton and a sign that the two schools are forever linked.

Suddarth said at St. Joseph, the only Catholic School in Manatee County, the school community knows they are part of the larger Diocese, something much bigger than themselves. After Irma, there was debris at the Bradenton school, but no damage, so when Suddarth learned about the extensive damage at St. Elizabeth Seton, she knew it was a worthy cause.

“We are not a wealthy school but we are a school that is rich in faith and service wanting to help others,” Suddarth added. “My students wanted to know what they could do to help. When they were preparing for their annual carnival, the students decided to have a cookie drive. We are honored to help you stay #SetonStrong.”

Father Russell Ruggiero, St. Elizabeth Seton Parish Pastor, complimented the St. Joseph Catholic School community, noting that just like Seton, the Bradenton school and parish make many sacrifices to help others. Father Ruggiero said St. Joseph Pastor Father Tomasz Zalewski wished the Parish could do more, “but as we heard in the Gospel (Luke 1:26-28), everything is possible with God. This is proof of it. We are so blessed to have your support in more ways than just this check.”

The large check came when the St. Joseph School board approved a special fundraiser that would be dedicated to assist in the recovery efforts at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School.

As a result, the students sold thousands of dollars’ worth of cookies, cakes and soups. The students and families were very supportive as they worked on behalf of another school, even though they were in the midst of the hard work and preparations for their own fall carnival.

Jack Thomas of the student council was the most successful fundraiser, selling $1,483 worth of items, and like the other students, he was excited that he could help those in need. What a great contribution and learning experience for all.