LEMAY, Mo. — At St. Francis of Assisi school, kids not only get an education, they're taught to become an inspiration.
"It's not just that you can make a difference. You are created to make a difference," says Principal Beth Bartolotta.
That's why, even before the pandemic, kids at St. Francis, St. Simon and the other Region 5 diocesan schools were raising money for blessing bags, filled with personal hygiene items such as a toothbrush, deodorant and shampoo.
"We call the program 'South County students helping South County students,'" explains Bartolotta.
That's because the blessing bags were for the students in the Hancock Place School District in Lemay.
"Many of our students face multiple barriers, challenges to learning," said Dr. Tim McInnis, Hancock's Assistant Superintendent.
Hancock is one of the most at-need districts in the state. Around 80% of students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch.
But there was another concern. Some of their students were coming to school in dirty clothes.
"I think many of us when we think of barriers to learning we think of things like not having a computer at home, maybe not having connectivity to the internet," said Dr. McInnis, "but I think we'd be hard-pressed to find any adult or especially grade school student who would think of having clean clothes, clean dry clothes as a worry or a challenge."
"It really shocked me and it showed that not even 15 to 20 minutes away from me there's kids that have this issue," added 13-year-old St. Francis student Andrew Wood.
Wanting to do more, the teachers and kids got an idea after watching 5 On Your Side.
"We were all inspired after watching your Making a Difference story on the Funderwear Challenge," explained Bartolotta.
The Funderwear Challenge pits Cor Jesu Academy versus St. Joseph Academy to see which school not only wins their basketball matchup but can donate the most new pairs of socks and underwear to the St. Patrick Center homeless shelter.
Region 5 schools decided to have a challenge of their own. Raise enough money so that Hancock schools could buy a washer and dryer.
"Our kids got on the PA every afternoon and they told the stories that they heard about Hancock, "explained Bartolotta.
"We would be like 'We raised $400 today, can we get to $450 tomorrow?'" recalled Wood. "And that really just inspired students."
The goal was $2,500 but the end total was a lot more.
"So our final count was $5,246.16," said a smiling Bartolotta.
Now, during this pandemic, the washer and dryer are especially needed.
"We've identified those families that are the neediest," McInnis said. "Our guidance counselors will work with those families."
It's a good reminder.
"Just because you may be younger doesn't mean you can't have an influence on any issues, "says Wood.
South County kids helping South County kids, showing the best education we can get is by what we give.
"I'm so proud of them, "said Bartlotta.