AUGUSTA — St. Michael School eighth-graders assembled Thanksgiving food baskets Sunday which, in a joint project with the local Salvation Army, will feed 150 local families and individuals in need for the coming holiday.

But it’s not just about filling paper bags with stuffing mix and a sack of potatoes, or even about helping fill bellies on Thanksgiving.

It’s also about instilling a sense of charity, community and appreciation of the need to help others in students while they’re young, and have a lifetime of potential ahead of them.

“Clearly, it opens their eyes to see that people are not as well off,” said the Rev. Francis Morin, administrator of Augusta-based St. Michael Parish. “It’s not a lesson so much as an experience they grow through.”

Several eighth-graders who gave up some of a sunny Sunday morning to assemble bags of food seemed to be getting the message.

“It’s Thanksgiving and that’s what Thanksgiving is all about, being thankful for what you have, and giving to others,” said 14-year-old Madelyn Rancourt, of Augusta, while filling bags of food with Leah Allee, 13, also of Augusta “We have a big Thanksgiving dinner with our families, we don’t know anything other than that. So we want to help people who can’t be with their families.”

She said she was thankful to be able to help others, and that she had a warm place to live.

Joshua Hoffman, 13, of Augusta, said he was helping out because “I know it needed to get done.”

He said he felt good about helping people who couldn’t afford to buy their own big dinner, and hopes it will help them have a good Thanksgiving.

Sunday morning a steady stream of parishioners brought in many bags of food to donate, capping off weeks of collecting and organizing food donations.

St. Michael School teacher Alyssa Benedict said donations came in from both St. Mary and St. Augustine churches in Augusta.

Brooklynn Belanger, 13, of Chelsea, said people were willing to give because they recognized the need is there, and they want to give back.

The Thanksgiving baskets to be given out Monday will go to people who signed up for them through the Salvation Army.

Retired longtime teacher John Hickey said the school started working on Thanksgiving baskets with the Salvation Army about five years ago, and has been having students collect and distribute food for Thanksgiving for some 40 years. He said it started with only 25 families, but has grown as the need has grown. He believes the experience stays with students beyond their time in school.

“I see a lot of them later (in their lives), and this is one of the things they talk about remembering,” Hickey said. “It helps give them a sense of community, and gets them starting to think outside of themselves. That’s kind of a learned behavior.”

Each basket will contain all the fixings for a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Denise Levesque, marketing director for the private Catholic school, said in a news release “Our students learn the importance of service and caring for our neighbors on a daily basis. We are proud to make this Thanksgiving special by delivering baskets and smiles to many individuals and families who otherwise might not have the resources to enjoy this holiday.”

Morin said food pantry officials have said they’re seeing more need than ever, and more children than ever, and that’s not good. Repeating a theme from the sermon he gave earlier Sunday morning, Morin urged parishioners, students, and others to work for a more just society in which fewer would go without life’s necessities, year round, not just on Thanksgiving.

“Charity is wonderful,” Morin said. “But justice is what would really lead to solutions.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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