SPRING LAKE — The gymnasium at St. Mary’s was buzzing with activity earlier this week as participants in the Catholic church’s Youth Ministries packed personal hygiene kits complete with shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, shaving cream, socks, toothbrushes and Chapstick.

The kits will be given to Spring Lake Public Schools for students in need.

In total, they planned to pack 100 kits for women and 100 kits for men, said Collin Shippy, a member of the youth group.

Donations filled more than a dozen tables as students in grades 7-12 packed the items that were donated by themselves and St. Mary’s parishioners.

Teens have participated in mission trips through St. Mary’s Youth Ministries the past four summers. After serving other communities, they have conversations about ways they can serve in their own community.

Chris Iwan, coordinator of St. Mary’s middle and high school youth groups, said they reached out to organizations, where they learned of the need in Spring Lake schools.

Last year, Claire Peterson helped launch the Hand-in-Hand project. Now a Spring Lake High School alumna, she started the project after learning about the need among her peers and as part of earning a Girl Scout Gold Star Award.

Shippy, a Spring Lake High School freshman, said he feels like there’s “big shoes to fill” as they continue the Hand-in-Hand project, because Peterson was determined to make it a sustainable effort.

Another youth group member, SLHS freshman Madi Boerger, explained the project is a way to give back some of what they’ve been blessed with.

Before students packed the kits, SLHS Principal Mike Gilchrist spoke to the group about the impact their efforts make. More than 100 kits were distributed last year, he said.

Instead of having to buy the items that are in the kits, Gilchrist told the students that families who receive the kits are instead able put their money toward food and housing costs.

“You will never understand the value,” he said.

Gilchrist said he couldn’t thank students enough for their efforts and asked them to continue giving back and helping others.

By serving the community, Iwan said the most important issue students learn is to be kind to everyone they meet.

“We have no idea what others are dealing with every day, and we are not called to judge, rather to love even if we don’t understand why people act the way they do,” he said.

Next summer, the group’s mission trip will take students to Detroit, where they will help in soup kitchens, food pantries and community gardens.

Since dedicating themselves to service four years ago, Iwan said he’s noticed a positive change in the Youth Ministry. He noted that faith formation programs and summer events have been based on service.

“Students really want to be a part of the solution,” Iwan said. “I see a desire in them that is longing to live in a better world for themselves and others.”

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