The Catholic Commentator

It started as just an ordinary August day for Mairead Skelton.

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Holding the hand-decorated school bags they received from Chicago-area Girl Scout Mairead Skelton, center, are, from left, Maggie Vicknair, Isabella LeBlanc, Juliette Young and Max Vicknair. Joining the students and Skelton for a photo are, from left, Joni Herrmann with the diocese’s Catholic Schools Office and Kim Naquin, principal of St. John Primary School. Photo provided by Kim Naquin | St. John Primary School

 

The 17-year-old was watching the news in her Chicago home when images of the horrific flooding that inundated the Baton Rouge area flashed on her television screen.

She saw the shocking videos, knew people were in trouble and decided to help.

Never mind that Skelton, a junior at Resurrection College Prep High School, a Catholic school on Chicago’s northwest side, didn’t know anyone affected by the floodwaters or that she had never been to Baton Rouge or even to Louisiana before.

All that mattered was she had to help others, and for Skelton, a Girl Scout, that meant putting her thoughts into action, something she knew how to do.

“I remember helping a fellow Girl Scout who made arts and craft packets for the kids when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans (in 2005). Our troop helped her pack so many things for the kids in New Orleans, and I began to think about what I could do for the kids in Baton Rouge. I knew school was starting and families had to be worrying about food, clothes and a place to live, so maybe I could help with school supplies,” said Skelton.

After receiving support from her troop leader and learning there was a definite need in the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Skelton began reaching out to her school community, surrounding churches, local politicians and her own family.

“I received so many donations, both the supplies themselves and monetary donations to go and purchase the additional supplies I still needed,” said Skelton.

All total, she gathered more than 6,000 school supplies to donate, but Skelton just didn’t collect items. She also added a personal touch by painting the donated canvas tote bags with images of a fleur de lis and the Louisiana state outline.

“I enlisted the help of the Girl Scout troops from my church and together we sorted through the supplies and filled the canvas bags with all different supplies,” said Skelton, adding that she made special goody bags for the teachers.

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With the school supplies ready, Skelton packed everything into the car of Bernadette Colletti, her troop leader, for the long drive to Baton Rouge. While to some, it might seem easier just to ship the supplies, Skelton decided to personally bring them to Baton Rouge, so she could also offer hope and compassion to the flooding victims, letting them know that others cared for them.

It was something her troop leader, another adult and a friend from her troop understood as they accompanied Skelton and helped her deliver the supplies to St. John the Evangelist Church in Prairieville on Oct. 15.

“I was able to meet some of the families who were affected by the flood. One mom told me that when they were packing up to leave their house, they didn’t think to grab school supplies. It made me feel good that I could help her,” said Skelton, noting that as they drove through the area, she was especially struck by the site of the high water mark left on some flooded homes and the piles of belongings left on the curb.

“It was eye opening to see how much stuff people had to get rid of,” she said.

But despite what she saw, Skelton said she was most impressed by the hospitality and kindness of the people she met.

“Everyone was so welcoming and so, so grateful,” said Skelton, who added that during the Mass, she, some of the children affected by the flooding and Kim Naquin, principal at St. John Primary School in Prairieville, brought up the offertory gifts which included one of her donated painted school bags.

Skelton said that while she was honored to participate in the celebration of the Mass, it was what happened after Communion that left an undeniable impression on her.

“Mrs. Naquin got up and said a little about what I had done and brought (for the flood victims),” she said.

For Naquin, introducing Skelton was easy. As principal of a Catholic school where service to others is taught alongside academic courses, Naquin commended Skelton’s tenacity and her desire to live out her faith.

“She may have been inspired by us, but truly she is an inspiration to us to serve one another,” Naquin told the congregation, and shortly after that, she asked Skelton to do something.

“Then Mrs. Naquin had me stand up, and the whole congregation gave me a standing ovation, which made me cry,” Skelton said.

“I was just so overcome that this community was applauding me when I should really applaud them. They survived this devastating flood. They came out of this flood stronger and closer than they were before,” she added, noting that since the experience, she is still drawn to something Naquin said about a name given to this flood.

“Mrs. Naquin said that everyone keeps referring to this flood as the ‘Great Flood of 2016.’ But then she asked, ‘What’s so great about it?'” said Skelton, who added Naquin’s answer was perfect.

“She said that the only thing great about the flood was how everyone came together to help those who were affected.”

And on this day, that same lesson of serving others is what made the distance between Chicago and Baton Rouge a little closer, too.