Mpact Offers Opportunities for Teens to Serve Community

By Mark Udry

Annie Vaughn, 11, from San Juan Del Rio parish in Fruit Cove, fills a plastic bag with toiletries to distribute to the homeless at Clothes Closet & Food Pantry in Orange Park as part of Mpact.

On a day usually given over to leisure activities, a group of young people rose early on a Saturday to roll up their collective sleeves and set to work by lending their time and talent making the community a better place, in ways large and small. Saturday, March 20 was the third iteration of Mpact, a middle school day of service for youth volunteers in the Diocese of St. Augustine.

Mpact came to fruition from “me being a parent,” said Robin Shipley, director of youth and young adult ministry for the diocese. Volunteer opportunities geared specifically for middle-school-aged youth were lacking, Shipley noted, so in 2018 she and a handful of other parish youth ministers created their own.

“Youth in this age range (12 to 15) have a sincere desire to answer a call to serve others in their community,” Shipley said. “Middle school children sometimes get a bad rap, but the reports we get back from the organizations who participate in Mpact say these kids are a very dedicated and extremely hard-working group.”

This year about a dozen Jacksonville-area nonprofit organizations, including City Rescue Mission, Emergency Pregnancy Services (EPS), and Waste Not Want Not, put the 130 middle schoolers to work, planting flowers and bushes, folding clothes, stocking food pantries, painting buildings and whatever else needed to be done.

At Waste Not Want Not in Orange Park, a half dozen volunteers wielded mops, scrub brushes and pressure washer hoses to clean out the facilities’ storage building. The nonprofit’s mission is “rescuing food and helping people” by collecting food daily from numerous sources for distribution to local charitable organizations.

A group of teens from the diocese spent their Saturday volunteering at Waste Not Want Not, an Orange Park nonprofit that distributes food from local restaurants and grocery stores to those in need as part of Mpact. The day had dozens of youth volunteer their time and talent at a dozen area nonprofits and later meeting at Christ the King parish to share their experiences and listen to keynote speaker Veronica Reilly, a past Mpact participant.

“These kids are an answer to a prayer,” said Sandra Staudt-Kellea, executive director of WNWN. “The majority of our volunteers are seniors, so it’s a huge help for us to have these young kids do some ‘heavy lifting,’ so to speak, things that our other volunteers aren’t able to do. They’ve worked really hard today and I’m so grateful for their service.”

One of the volunteers, Perpetua Bland, 13, from St. Anastasia Parish in St. Augustine, said she enjoys volunteering, having served in soup kitchens and food pantries in previous Mpact outings.

“It makes me feel good knowing that what I do here makes a difference in other people’s lives,” Bland said. “We are answering the call to help others in the community, to make it a better place, and give back to others that need a helping hand. It’s only for a few hours on a weekend, but it makes big difference to the people who need our help the most.”