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North Hills Monthly

St. Ursula School Students Feed the Hungry through Red Door Program

Nov 30, 2015 06:13PM ● By North Hills Monthly magazine
By Erica Cebzanov

St. Ursula School students prepared 150 bag lunches for the less fortunate to commemorate their patron saint’s feast day on Oct. 21. For the past three years, the school has partnered with St. Mary of Mercy’s Red Door Program, downtown, to distribute the meals.

“Since we are a diocesan Catholic school, it’s always nice to be able to partner with another diocesan organization. It’s a good project because the youngest to the oldest students can participate,” said Amy Valenty, St. Ursula School Advisory Council co-president.

The students devoted the afternoon to preparing the lunches in an assembly line fashion on the school’s long cafeteria tables. Tasks increased in difficulty with age:  the Ready K students and kindergartners decorated the bags with uplifting drawings and messages, while the eighth-graders made one ham and one turkey sandwich per bag. Amy Valenty said the third-graders went ‘trick-or-treating’ with the bags to each grade’s table collecting the meal components, such as condiment packs, fruit, granola bars, pieces of candy, sandwiches and beverages. This year, eighth-grade Student Council President Joseph Valenty also decided to add cards notifying the recipients that the students were praying for them.

Amy Valenty and the Rev. Aaron Kriss, St. Ursula Roman Catholic Church pastor, accompanied Joseph Valenty and his fellow student council members to deliver the meals to Sheehan Clark, Red Door coordinator. “They toured the kitchen and saw the red door where 70 to 130 people receive meals each day,” said St. Mary’s Deacon Sam Toney.

The program’s supporters make extra food, so they never have to turn anyone away. “I thought it was really nice. The majority of the people working there are volunteers. They do it of their own free will and out of the goodness of their hearts,” said Joseph Valenty.

Much to their surprise, the students saw people lining up hours in advance for the lunches. Amy Valenty said that she could see the appreciation on one man’s face when he realized the children were delivering meals that they had prepared. “I thought that they were just normal people that could be down on their luck,” said Joseph Valenty. “They could just be having a little trouble.”

Toney said Red Door lunch recipients span all demographics, from families with children in strollers to people wearing suits that are working for the first time in months and need food assistance until they receive their first paychecks. “We feed them and greet them out on the streets. They are some great people. We know them pretty well,” he said, adding that one of the recipients wrote a poem that the church put on its door.

After discussing the project with Principal Sister Joanita Fedor, Amy Valenty started planning the feast of St. Ursula service assignment in August. Parents donated food items, Giant Eagle gift cards or the plastic gloves the students wore while preparing the lunches. Throughout the year, individual families, school groups, Scouting troops, confirmation classes, Sisters of Divine Providence, St. Paul seminarians and other groups volunteer to prepare Red Door lunches. In addition, Clark said the program has four or five volunteers regularly working on-site when the program is in session.

St. Mary’s started the Red Door Program during the Great Depression. In cooperation with four other churches forming the downtown Ministerial Association, the parish also takes turns hosting a walk-in ministry providing toiletries, groceries and bus passes for those in need.

The Red Door Program provides meals from 10:30 a.m. -11:30 a.m., Monday-Saturday at the corner of Stanwix Street and the Boulevard of the Allies. For more information about St. Ursula School, call 412-486-5511 or visit