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When the boys finished putting together their donation for a local food pantry as part of a Thanksgiving prayer services at St. Bernardine’s, the 8-year-olds shared a group hug. The spontaneous embrace was well deserved as the children learned that Thanksgiving is not only about family, friends, food and football, but also about being thankful and helping others.

On Nov. 17 in Room 109 at St. Bernardine, 14 kids and their parents assembled for a class focused on being thankful for everything in God’s creation. The students made drawings depicting the blessings all around them like the Earth, animals, food, homes, family, friends and school.

“It feels good to help other people,” said Jessica Zwolen, a student at Betsy Ross. “We learned in class about being thankful for many things in life.”

After class, the students joined their parents for the prayer service at a small chapel inside the school. St. Bernardine Director of Religious Education Ann Stauffer led the “Litany of Thanksgiving” prayer service talking to the second-grade communicants about the importance of gratitude, love and kindness. Following Stauffer’s opening talk, students Henry Weldon, Jake Gordon, Quinlan Doolin, Nick Garlisch, Frankie Mott, Mickey Whalen, Deklin Clayton and Zwolen collaborated on an adapted Bible reading.

“When these kids experience something early on in their life, it just grows with them,” said Stauffer, alluding to the life lessons about helping others. “They see it modeled in their parents and then it becomes a part of their life as well. The kids learn to share because others have shared with them. These kids are very hands-on learners. You can do all the telling you want, but they actually have to do it. When they are truly active with a lesson they have studied, that makes it come alive for them.”

The prayer service and lessons learned from the special day also impressed parents, who sat with their children in pews during the prayer service.

“It was exciting to see the kids so enthusiastic about being in church and helping others,” Bonnie Doolin, whose son Quinlan attended the event, said. “At home, we really try to teach our kids that they should feel very fortunate and thankful about their lives.”

Toward the end of the prayer service, the students approached the altar and presented their food donations and drawings. The collection of non-perishable food items will be given to the Forest Park Community Center, which has a food pantry.

“It’s always helpful when we have community support, especially when the kids do something generous,” Community Center Director Beverly Thompson said. “We will deliver these Thanksgiving baskets to families in need within the community.”

For the second-grade students of the St. Bernardine program, it looks like their group hug will touch more people than they imagined.

“If we don’t help people, they might not be safe or could even die,” said Gordon. “I like helping people, and I like Thanksgiving because I get to spend time with my family and go to my grandma’s house.”