Susan Booth, principal at St. Matthias School, Milwaukee, was about to have her second child. As with every school year, the students and families band together to support a non-profit organization through donations.

St. Matthias School, Milwaukee, principal Susan Booth, right, presents to Pauline Beck, executive director of the HOPE Network, students’ donations for low-income mothers in need at a all-school baby shower on Feb. 19. (Catholic Herald photo by Ricardo Torres)“They were trying to find a unique way to bring another service opportunity and my pregnancy came up,” said Booth, who was in her third trimester at the time.

They decided to collect donations for the HOPE Network, a volunteer group that provides low-income mothers with the needs for their children.

“A mother wants to be sure she can give everything they can to the child and some women struggle to have the diapers, to have the formula,” Booth said. “Looking at the amount of things our students and our families have brought in, I’m amazed.”

This project has become more than just a service goal; it has created an additional learning opportunity for the students.

“It really sparked a variety of discussions with the children. The teachers have really commented on the wide range of knowledge the children have,” Booth said.

Booth said some students are completely oblivious to what babies need while others, many who have younger siblings, are well aware of the amount of care and attention young children demand.

“It’s a great way for the kids to learn about these different charities and how they help people,” Booth said.

On Feb. 19, the school gathered to formally give the gifts to the network. They decided to have a “baby shower.” Older students were paired with younger students and worked as a team in stroller relay races and diaper changing contests. Even two childless teachers played the games.

The students guessed the weight of Booth’s baby – guesses ranged from 1 to 100 pounds – and offered suggestions for names, including Frodo and Katniss. However, Booth, who had a baby boy in March, named him William.

Pauline Beck, executive director of the HOPE Network, was amazed when she entered the St. Matthias gym, where the gifts were stored.

She said she wasn’t expecting the number of donations they collected, and would need to take several car trips to bring it all back to the HOPE Network.

“This is a significant amount of items … we have a very limited budget,” she said.

The HOPE Network gives 80 to 100 cribs a year to mothers whose babies don’t have a safe place to sleep, along with material on proper ways for babies to sleep. Its quarterly newsletter, which contains information on thrift shops and food pantries, is mailed to more than 4,500 mothers in the Milwaukee area.

For an additional $5, mothers can join HOPE Network to receive added benefits like scholarships and tickets to recreational events like Milwaukee Brewer games. So far more than 250 mothers have signed up.

“Forty different mothers might benefit form this,” Beck said of the St. Matthias donations. “Many of the mothers are low income and can’t afford many of the basic necessities.”

The St. Matthias School community gathered a crib, several strollers, a baby bathtub, car seats, and lots of clothes and blankets.

Among the most donated items, was baby formula.

“Knowing how expensive formula is, and I’m so excited with the amount of formula our families have brought in,” Booth said, adding a large tin of baby formula powder can cost as much as $40. “A new mother is scared anyway, when you’re given that little baby; to help them with the needs of that little child, that would be great.”

The assembly incorporated fun with learning but the underlying reason for the collaboration between the school and the HOPE Network points to a more serious issue.

“Every once in a while somebody hears about us and then does a particular project, but it’s not anything we’re relying on. … ” Beck said, adding that efforts like this can go a long way. “This is a lot of equipment and supplies, and we were just running out of a few things … this is very timely.”