EAST BLOOMFIELD — Two dozen junior-high students sat in the St. Bridget/St. Joseph Parish Hall Nov. 16 and warily eyed the six tables next to them, which each held two pie tins, pie crusts, rubber gloves, a tub of apples and several knives and peeling instruments.
“Our mission tonight is to make 12 apple pies,” explained Sister of St. Joseph Diane Dennie, the parish’s pastoral administrator.
The pies made that evening would be included with Thanksgiving meals the parish’s high-school students planned to make and deliver to homebound senior citizens in the community on Nov. 19, Sister Dennie said. After listening to Sister Dennie explain how to make an apple pie, the students and parent volunteers formed groups, manned their pie-making stations and donned rubber gloves.
Most of them began peeling and slicing the apples, while one or two people at each table unrolled the pie crusts and spread them out in the pie plates. Two girls acted as “go-fers,” running back and forth between the kitchen and the six tables with bowls of pre-measured dry ingredients.
Once the sliced apples and dry ingredients had been placed in the pie crusts, the kids took up cookie cutters and knives and began carving designs into the top layer of crust.
“If you want to be artistic, here’s your chance,” Sister Dennie had told them, and many followed her suggestion.
Seventh-grader Jake Weber used a cookie cutter to make leaf-shaped cut-outs in the top of the pie he was working on and said designing the top of the pie crust was his favorite part of the evening. Eighth-grader Johnny Minehan fashioned his pie so that the top of it read “Happy Turkey Day,” and another pie was adorned with what looked like a stick-figure rendition of the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Seventh-grader Allison Bell put a heart on the top of her pie “so the people eating it will be filled with love,” she said.
The volunteers worked fast, and within 40 minutes all 12 pies had been successfully completed and were in the kitchen waiting to go into the oven. A number of students had never before made pies and had enjoyed the experience, although they weren’t sure they’d be making more pies anytime in the near future. Eighth-grader Patrick Bell especially liked adding the cinnamon and dry ingredients, and sixth-grader Nina Kent liked working with the pie crust because “it’s like Play-Dough.”
“I think it’s fun, and it’s a good way to do something for people who can’t do things for themselves,” Johnny said.
On Nov. 19, a handful of teens from the parish’s high-school youth group met at the parish hall and prepared turkeys, stuffing, gravy, cranberries, mashed potatoes, corn and peas. After about three hours they finished making the meals and hit the streets, delivering the meals and pies to homebound senior citizens. They stopped and visited with a number of the senior citizens, who seemed to genuinely appreciate their efforts, said Tom Vespi, 16.
“They were happy to get a meal, and they were happy to get some company and talk for a while,” Tom said. “I think it’s important for senior citizens to have some company because their lives can sometimes be lonely.”
“It was pretty fun seeing the seniors when we delivered the meals to them,” added T-Bill Hart, 15. “I think it really makes you feel a sense of accomplishment.”
The Thanksgiving project was the second community-service project youth-group members participated in during the month of November, Sister Dennie said. On Nov. 5, about 25 young people gathered at the church at 9 a.m. and formed work crews. Some of the crews went out into the neighborhood and raked and bagged leaves at the houses of four senior citizens.
“Thirty large garbage bagsful came back from one house alone,” Sister Dennie said. “At three of the four places the kids planted tulip bulbs so something cheerful will come up in the spring. The fourth woman told them she had lots of bulbs already.”
Two crews stayed on the parish grounds, she added.
“One worked in the Reflection Garden, which overlooks our cemetery. They raked leaves out of the garden and planted mums. The second crew worked in our community garden, clearing out the leftover vegetables and uprooting and cutting up all the plants to clear the garden for the winter,” she said.
Sister Dennie said she approached senior citizens to ask if they needed help before dispatching the leaf-rakers and cooks, and most of them seemed to be excited about the prospect of interacting with the young people. When she asked one woman if she needed her lawn raked, the woman quickly responded, “Oh no, my leaves just blow away, but put me on that apple pie list!”
The young people also seemed to enjoy working with the senior citizens, said Bridget Hart, who is part of the team of volunteers responsible for planning activities for the parish youth group and faith-formation classes. Many children and teens don’t know how to act around senior citizens and are sometimes even a little bit fearful of them, especially if they don’t have close relationships with older people in their own families, she said.
The recent service activities at the parish seem to have helped the teens and children bridge that generation gap, she added.
“This gets them to understand that there are people out there that need their help. It also brings the kids in the church together as church. We really want them to come together and realize that they’re all friends and a church community,” she said.