In 1964, St Mary’s Secondary School was opened in Gateshead because the Sisters saw the need for a Catholic high school in the district. The school was named after Mary, the Mother of Jesus. It celebrates the Feast of the Annunciation, and the motto of the college echoes Mary’s and the Josephite’s sentiments — “Yes We’re “Ready To Serve’’. This spirit and culture “to be ready to serve and do something about a need” still burns within the St Mary’s community today.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upset lives. It has brought about change, where people have lost their jobs, and become isolated, even alone for some.
At St Mary’s, it was thought the coronavirus would result in the closure of our canteen. There were no longer students and we were concerned our canteen supervisor, Deb, would lose her job. This was enforced change. There was a need.
Possible solutions were examined. The college boasted a hospitality block. The hospitality staff — Deb Tserepas, Chris Shaw and Michelle Russell — began to cook dinners instead of preparing student lunches. This was to ease the burden of families who, with the added pressures of home schooling, social distancing, potential furloughing of jobs, siblings at home, lockdown restraints, shortages with supermarket shopping, work and financial worries, would have one less thing to organise and worry about.
The staff and families could order the evening meal on-line and collect them from a drive-through at the school. The St Mary’s Ready To Serve Café takeaway had begun.
There were still a lot of people doing it tough: still struggling; losing their jobs; feeling isolated, helpless and alone. The invitation was extended to the St Mary’s community that when they ordered their meal, they could pay for one extra meal — pay it forward. This deed of kindness enabled donations for a meal bank to reach out to others to give them a hand-up and maybe put a smile on someone’s face, letting them know they were not alone. The response was swift and overwhelming.
Evening healthy meals are now being delivered to families who are in need. The parish St Vincent de Paul has been contacted in the hope that we might be able to help further in this small way.
As at 21 May, 300 meals had been prepared and collected. From the generosity of community members, we have distributed 55 “pay-it-forward” meals. As school life begins to go back to “normal” and returns to its regular timetabling, we shall continue with this service on a smaller scale with a view to keeping the pay-it-forward going for as long as required.
The satisfaction for all staff members who have been involved with this initiative has been immense and the knowledge that this service is helpful, and in some cases, crucial, has made the project truly worthwhile.
In the next couple of weeks, St Mary’s will also make available its very own olive harvest. In quieter times, support staff have taken full advantage of the wonderful bounty the olive tree has given. Very soon these jars full of goodness will be ready for purchase. Funds made will go towards the Pay It Forward initiative.
It is all about giving and receiving. As St John says in Jn 10:10 “I have come that you may have life, life to the full.” Each 1.5m encounter is gracious. It is also about community working together to make the thought come to life. It is as though we are all sitting around one big table, in separate homes, sharing the same meal. As the Peace Prayer of St Francis says, “it is in giving that we receive”.
St Mary’s Catholic College, Gateshead — always “Ready to Serve”.