By SMCHS Staff     2/28/2017

More than 190 members of the Santa Margarita Catholic High School faculty and staff participated in a service retreat on Wednesday, Feb. 1, with a focus on providing aid to homeless adults and children in Orange County. Partnering with The Illumination Foundation, an organization that seeks to break the cycle of homelessness, SMCHS faculty and staff members packaged backpacks filled with food, clothing, toiletries and first aid supplies that will directly benefit the homeless children and adults that the Illumination Foundation supports.

Christian service is an integral part of a Santa Margarita education, with all students required to perform meaningful acts of service before graduation. While members of Santa Margarita’s faculty and staff perform service throughout the year, this was the school’s sixth official all-school faculty and staff service day.

The day began at with Mass at San Francisco Solano Church followed by breakfast and an introduction to the work of the Illumination Foundation. Illumination Foundation Director Paul Leon spoke to SMCHS faculty and staff on the work being done by his organization to address the issue of homelessness in Orange County.

“Orange County has one of the highest rates of homeless families in California and the numbers continue to rise,” Leon said. “The Illumination Foundation is honored to work with SMCHS because this day of service is a testament to the willingness and compassion of individuals learning about the issues of homelessness and poverty and taking action.”

Following the introduction to Leon and the Illumination Foundation, SMCHS faculty and staff made their way to the lunch shelter to begin the service portion of the day.

Inside the lunch shelter, gymnasium and grotto, ten stations were set up for ten groups of faculty and staff members to fill large backpacks for male and female adults as well as smaller backpacks for children. Each individual received a backpack marked for either a male or a female as well as small backpack for a child. Faculty and staff members had ten minutes to rotate around the ten stations, filling their backpacks with food, clothing, toiletries and first aid supplies at four of the stations and learning about statistics related to homelessness and the work done by the Illumination Foundation and other non-profit organizations in Orange County at the remaining six stations. Representatives from the Illumination Foundation, Family Assistance Ministries of San Clemente and Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen of Santa Ana were present at the stations to provide information and statistics on addiction, childhood trauma and the work of their respective organizations when it comes to fighting homelessness in Orange County.

SMCHS Assistant Coordinator to Christian Services, Caitlan Rangel ’08, said the day was a great opportunity for the faculty and staff to work together and set an example for the students of Santa Margarita.

“It is inspiring for me to see my peers put their minds, hearts and bodies into a service day because learning about an issue such as homelessness can also be mentally and emotionally challenging,” Rangel said. “It was truly amazing to see our SMCHS community be holistically generous, open, dedicated and joyful in their service.”

At the conclusion of the service day, SMCHS faculty and staff had put together 200 male and female adult backpacks and 225 children’s backpacks, all to be distributed by the Illumination Foundation to those in need in Orange County. Leia Smith, who has been the Co-Director of the Orange County Catholic Worker (Isaiah House of Hospitality) for 20 years, spoke to the staff at the conclusion of the day to help re-focus our attention on the people being served.

“I want to thank all of you for being people that choose to stand for the people of our community that need us most,” Smith said. “I hope that you all continue to open your hearts to the people in our community that need us the most.”

The service day would not have been possible without the work of the Campus Ministry department at SMCHS and donations of clothing from faculty and staff. Equally instrumental to the success of the day was Walmart of Rancho Santa Margarita. Walmart provided a $500 discount on toiletry and food items used to stuff each backpack. SMCHS would also like to thank Joes USA for donating a large amount of clothing items that were used to pack each backpack. Joes USA is an apparel company managed by the family of former SMCHS bus driver Marci Visser.