The food service staff at Sacred Heart Convent is proud to make some warm meals for homeless children in The Matthew Project. The Dominican Sisters of Springfield, IL have sponsored the children of The Matthew Project with meals for several years. This particular year, the gift of the food is needed more than ever.
The Matthew Project was founded by Ann Libri to provide tutoring, school supplies, food, financial literacy, clothing and life skills training to homeless children in District 186. The kids in need of assistance are identified at the school district and referred to The Matthew Project. Lisa Thiele, DeDe Murphy, Cassie Nation and many other Mentors for The Matthew Project give students a foundation to grow up with a healthy body and mind with the tools needed to be their best selves. The name for the Matthew Project comes from Matthew 25:35, in which Jesus says to his disciples, “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in.”
Once a week fourteen children are dropped off at The Matthew Project. The very first thing the children do is eat. Ann Libri, founder of The Matthew Project, thanked the sisters for their continued help to stop the children’s food insecurity for the school year. “Thank you to the Dominican Sisters and chief Nina—it’s unbelievable what you do for us,” Ann said. “You feed about forty people with all the children and all of their mentors. There is always food to take home to the rest of their family members. It is such a blessing because we will watch the children eat right off their plates of food. They’re really hungry. It’s a big issue this year. Very scarce, so we’re so grateful. It’s really an incredible blessing a lot of us take for granted. There’s always food in the refrigerator. These children don’t have refrigerators. We’re really thankful for the food, it’s really a blessing. We’re so thankful to the Dominican Sisters for that.”
Ann continued to describe the after meal rituals built into the program, “Once we eat all the children are required to clean up the tables take food in the kitchen. We have a staff in the kitchen that prepares the take home bags. Then the kids do about an hour’s worth of homework with their mentor, which is really precious time berceuse this year all of our children are all way behind academically. Most of our kids are a repeating the year they did last year. Our goal with the program is to get them caught up and hopefully, get them to the next level.”
These fourteen children receive life giving skills. The house South 8th Street near the Lincoln Home National Historical Site is more than a place of learning and a place to get a meal, it is a real home. One student, overwhelmed with pure joy after he cleaned up his meal table, exclaimed, “I love it here!” Another student chimed in with a wide-open smile looking out to all the volunteers, “You are all so beautiful!” Mentor DeDe Murphy bent down and moved in close to repeat back to the young man with a reassuring smile, “You are all beautiful.”
Towards the end of the classes one of the students getting ready to leave—and didn’t have a coat. (It was 24° when I walked in the door, it would be a low of 16° that night). Volunteer Cassie Nation grabbed Lisa Thiele and told her that the child she mentored had no coat. Without hesitation Lisa walked them both over to a wall of donated coats and she quickly picked out one that fit him. The gratitude by the young person couldn’t be measured in words that can be described, but felt, like when warmth hits your face as you first open a door to come in from the cold. This child earned the coat with good behavior; he earned it with Matthew Dollars.
Each child learns how to earn and save using Matthew Dollars. They get a Matthew Dollar to buy donated educational items, emergency items, or health and wellness items such as underwear, basketballs, jump ropes, socks, backpacks, and other clothing items. “Most of our children don’t ware underwear unless they get it from here,” Ann explained. Sleeping bags and pillows are also popular items with the children with the children that sleep in tents. Ann explained how they run the Matthew Money part of the program: “We don’t give anything for free. The children have to earn every single thing that they get here. That is one of our staples here. They get the meal for free, but they have to work for everything just like the rest of us do.”
The children earn a Matthew Dollar for things like attendance. If they are at school every day, they get a Matthew Dollar a day. They get a Matthew Dollar at school if behavior if an issue. Students get a Matthew Dollar for what The Matthew Project calls Above and Beyond for character related rewards like being kind, showing self-control, or helping someone without being told to. It is not uncommon for a student to earn $10 to $35 a day if they go to school every day.
They buy items they need like uniforms, clothing and sleeping bags. In the spring thy earn bike locks, helmets and even bikes. The bike is the financial goal for each child—each child has made the bike their goal has achieved it by learning how to save money. The banker goes over their savings account book with each student so he or she knows how to earn money, what their balance is, and what they can or can’t spend to reach their goal. “They really understand the concept of money and saving; wants versus needs,” Ann said about the year-round financial program. At the end of day they go shopping with their mentor.
“These kids are incredibly generous,” noted Ann. “They are constantly buying for, maybe a sister or brother, diapers, baby food—anything that the moms need. We try to stay in close contact with the moms so if we know there is a need, we don’t just give it. We explain it to the moms that we allow the children to work hard for it and help their family out with that.”
The Springfield Urban League provides a bus to take the children to where they are going to sleep that night. Before they are sent off they huddle together and are given a positive message.
Want to help?
You can share your time and become a tutor volunteer. You can give new children’s books, gloves and coats that they can earn using their Matthew Bucks in their finical literacy program. You can support The Matthew Project financially with your donations. It takes a lot of people to run one night. Start to finish it takes about 70 people, so volunteers are always welcome. Sub-mentors are need to make sure that none of the children are by themselves if a mentor can’t be there.
The arc of history bends towards justice; there are good people giving of themselves to make the lives of people in need better, even on freezing nights when it is not convenient. It is possible to see the warmth of humanity foster life in a cold season when all seems bleak. It is possible, and you can make it possible.
Edith Peacock, Cook at Dominican Sisters of Springfield, IL Sacred Heart Convent, personally gets something out of preparing meals for The Matthew Project. “I get enjoyment each and every time. I get the enjoyment to know that I am making somebody’s day a little bit brighter.”