This is the first of a two-part series about Villa Duchesne's efforts to aid the tornado victims of Joplin, MO. The series continues Sunday with a local account of relief work in the tornado-ravaged zone.
Coni Kreisch is a Villa Duchesne mom, as is one of her best friends, Tracy Bazoian. Coni’s daughter, Christina, 17, graduated as valedictorian of the senior class and is enrolled in the Mars Rover mission for NASA at Washington University. Tracy’s daughter, Casey, 17, also a recent graduate, will enter the freshman class at Oklahoma State University this fall.
“I was thinking a lot about the storm survivors in Joplin. I asked Tracy about it, and unfortunately for me, she thought that was a great idea, (to help),” Kreisch said. Like a snowball rolling downhill, the effort to gather and personally deliver a truckload of nonperishable items was kicked into high gear. Neither realized how difficult this task might become or hot the broiling sun would be as students gathered, stuffed and loaded canned goods and a wide variety of other products into a donated Enterprise Leasing truck.
Greg Stubblefield, a Villa parent and a vice president at Enterprise Leasing, made the generous donation of the 25-foot box truck.
Improvisation became the mother’s milk of success. “Some of our girls went out onto Clayton Road and Lindbergh and collected cash donations into blue buckets. We raised $200 on the spot," Kreisch said. The neighboring Weaver family organized a lemonade stand, and Sarah, Tom, Joey and Peter Weaver and friend Bonnie Pendergass, all elementary youngsters, raised $282.30. Their grandmother delivered the money to the organizers. All told, a traveling party of four took nearly $2,000 in cash and more than 2,000 cans of food and other nonperishable items such as Pampers, blankets, shoes, paper and personal hygiene products the 278 miles down the road to Joplin.
Allie Koenig, 17, also a recent Villa graduate, went around in her neighborhood in St. Charles and collected 1,800 cans of food. Koenig, who will be a freshman at Saint Louis University in the fall, delivered the goods to the drive Wednesday with the help of her dad, Gary.
Sr. Lucie Nordmann, head of school at Villa Duchesne Oak Hill, was head cheerleader for the project. She stopped on the way into work Thursday to thank all of her young workers and mug for a photo with the group.
Villa Duchesne is part of the Sacred Heart System, with schools spread all over the world. Each year, an 88-year-old sister from the staff at Villa and a group of students delivers much needed clothing to a poverty-ridden community in Mexico. She’s done this for 20 years. And up until recently, drove the truck herself south of the border.
Students pitched in and did the hard work. It was difficult, lifting all those heavy boxes. Copious records were kept of each donated item. The donation team consisted of students from grade and middle-school age to recent graduates and their mothers. They were the project’s unsung heroes.
Francesca DiRollo, director of seventh and eighth-grade students at Villa dropped off a trunk load of food. “I am more than happy to support the efforts of these youngsters,” DiRollo said.
Each December, on the last day of school before Christmas break, students hold a mass and collected nonperishable food items for a wide range of shelters and charities in the St. Louis community. That has occured since the school was founded in 1929.
The Joplin collection effort was no easy project. School was out, and the word to donate had to go by email and other forms of social networking. There was plenty of manual labor involved, and the weather was hot and humid. The rewards were many. Noodles & Company in Creve Coeur served up a free, hot four selection lunch for all the workers.
The Salvation Army relief services of Joplin was the recipient of all the generous donations. With thousands homeless and still hungry, the good deed will not go unturned.