Photo courtesy of St. Francis Prep
Suzanne Camus (c.) with members of Prep’s Alumni Board and student volunteers at the Dec. 15 Christmas party, Our Friends with Special Needs.

At St. Francis Prep, the holidays are always a time to focus on those in need — and the Fresh Meadows school community gave a helping hand this holiday season with two major charitable events.

On Saturday Dec. 15, St. Francis Prep — located at 61-00 Francis Lewis Blvd. — welcomed disabled men and women throughout Brooklyn and Queens to its annual party Our Friends with Special Needs. The celebration included a light breakfast, Mass, lunch, live music, the SFP Chamber of Orchestra, the SFP dance team, and a visit from Santa.

“In 1980, Sister Joseph Agnes Hohmann asked a number of volunteers to assist some ‘very precious men and women’ at St. Francis Prep’s Annual Christmas Party for our Friends with Special Needs,” said Suzanne Camus, a social studies teacher and organizer of the party. “Little did those people realize that she was teaching the true meaning of Christmas: Service to others in the great Franciscan tradition.

Sister Agnes passed away in 2005, but St. Francis Prep’s alumni and faculty are working together to keep the party alive in her memory, according to Camus.

Each guest received a Christmas gift and a favor as they left the party. Since many of their guests do not have families, the party is the only celebration of the holiday they enjoy.

St. Francis’ efforts are supported by the Colgate Palmolive Company, JP Morgan Chase, the St. Francis Prep Alumni Association, Father’s Guild and Mother’s Guild, and over 200 student volunteers. The Italian Club and various other SFP clubs are also involved in the party.

In November, St. Francis Prep’s annual Thanksgiving drive in mid-November martialed the entire school. The drive started with a school-wide prayer service that served to outline the goals for the drive.

Both Reverend Ralph Edel, Prep’s Chaplain, and senior Ashley Caturano spoke to the school.

Prep’s Campus Minister for Service Learning, Ashley’s comments in particular, about the value of giving, and the impact of service, were especially resonant, according to Shawn Sempowich.

Each COR (or homeroom) was given a specific request, such as baby products, and the results were, said Sempowhich, “the best results in years.”

“The kids were very, very open. Definitely a culture of giving amongst the students and that translated into success. [This year] was more of a grass roots effort and the kids rallied around the cause,” said Sempowhich.

The organizations that benefitted from the drive were St. John’s Bread and Life, Hour Children’s House, Queen of Peace Residence, Presentation Parish Soup Kitchen, St. Aloysius Food Pantry, St. Francis Table at St. Matthias, and Incarnation Food Pantry.

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