COVID Cancelled 2021 Fundraiser But Committee Found A Way To Award Annual Social Justice Scholarship

Collection of Soup’s On! program/menu booklets from over the years./File photo Joe Barkovich

By Wayne Campbell and Joe Barkovich

Even though its annual fundraiser could not be held because of the COVID-19 pandemic and related protocols, St. Kevin Social Justice Scholarship Committee (Soup’s On!) presented 2021 scholarships to three graduating students from local Catholic secondary schools.

The recipients are: Luca DiPietro, Blessed Trinity Catholic Secondary School, Grimsby; David Pinelli, Lakeshore Catholic High School, Port Colborne; and Sophia Belcastro, Notre Dame College School, Welland.

Luca DiPietro of Blessed Trinity will attend University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business with a goal of becoming a lawyer focusing on human rights.

During the pandemic, Luca, a student trustee for Niagara Catholic District School Board, co-founded The Teenage Tutors, a free tutoring company to assist students challenged by learning during COVID-19.

He started the school board’s COVID-19 mask sticker fundraiser as well as set up the first Niagara Catholic mental health summit. It would combat a mental-health stigma and offer mental well-being tips.

At the family level, Luca was primary caregiver for his grandmother: buying groceries, ordering prescriptions and providing companionship.

Some of his other activities include:

 Promoting legislation to ban single-use plastics in district schools; Creating The Thundercast, Blessed Trinity’s first podcast; Organizing a Valentine’s Day card project for a retirement home; Led youth ministry at his parish; Helped to maintain landscaping at parish church during the pandemic.

David Pinelli of Lakeshore Catholic will enter business administration and financial math at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo.

David was very active in church, Out of the Cold meals, hockey, volleyball, baseball and school activities as well as holiday gatherings with relatives.

As an only child, he said the pandemic “has hit me very hard… I had felt a disconnection between my family and friends.” He could no longer “hang out with friends.” He also remained cautious because of a health condition of a family member.

Through prayer and searching, David said he found new activities to enjoy alone, such as working out, hobbies and video games. “During the Easter season I decided to watch many Catholic faith-filled TV shows and movies.”

Using Facetime, David helped a friend through a COVID-19 crisis. It was “a huge eye-opener …taught me not to take my life for granted…I know my prayers definitely helped my friend become healthy.”

Some of David’s other activities include:

His parish priest said David “Lives his faith.”; Strong academic standing; Hockey, volleyball, basketball; Student Youth Ambassador for Lakeshore; Annual Lakeshore Pilgrimage walker.

Sophia Belcastro from Notre Dame will study business management at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on a women’s soccer scholarship.

Sophia found plans for her Grade 11 and 12 years, like so many of her fellow students “were dashed by COVID-19”.

Closer to home, her pandemic experience included supporting her sister with meals and Facetime, during 14-day quarantines when her sister returned home  from an American university. It became more serious when her sister, now with COVID, had to isolate in a Niagara Falls N.Y. hotel. Through daily Facetime calls, Sophia encouraged her sister as she gradually improved.

During Ontario’s stay-at-home period, Sophia “honed her cooking and baking skills” and dropped off homemade baked goods and meals on the porches of elderly or infirmed neighbors and family members.

In 2020 with five other girls, Sophia helped the Sisters of the Sacred Heart set up Sisters Summer Camp for the children of first responders and of others in need of summer daycare. Sophia is a former daycare student of the Sisters and a member of their youth group.

In planning and carrying out the six weeks of camps for more than 30 children during the pandemic, Sophia learned about attention to personal safety, testing and ever-changing COVID regulations. For example, hula-hoops were used to set social distancing.

The camps for children ages 3 to 12 produced many memories for children, parents, staff and the sisters…. and not one COVID-related case.

Some of Sophia’s other activities are: 

Youth ministry participant; Community Christian Outreach; Peer tutor; Junior basketball and varsity soccer team member; Four-year honour roll student.

The St. Kevin Social Justice Scholarship (Soup’s On!) is one that appeals to students “who envision not a perfect world but a better one” according to its application document. Over the years applicants have come to the table with diverse interests and involvement: food bank/food pantry, homelessness, Harvest Kitchen/Out of the Cold, environment, ecology, peace and politics, initiatives against male violence directed at women, Fair Trade, volunteering with Wells of Hope projects in Guatemala, and others.

The committee considered not offering the scholarship this year but after discussion of a suggestion by committee member Bernie Barkovich, voted to make it available with an added dimension. It wanted to know how the pandemic affected the personal and faith lives of the student nominees, how they reacted and reached out to others who are part of their lives.

In past years, scholarship applicants were sought from several secondary schools in the area and interviewed by the committee. Their social justice involvement and servant leadership in the school and larger community in which they lived and their academic achievement were part of the evaluation process.

But last year and this, because of the pandemic, the interview process was dropped and the three schools were asked to submit candidates for the scholarship.

The annual fundraiser, Soup’s On! was cancelled this year because of the pandemic. The committee dipped into its reserve fund to keep the $1,000 scholarship going.

Since 2004, $55,900 has been awarded to 59 students in scholarships and $6,150 in five special funding allocations. The scholarship started at $300 and was increased twice over the years: to $500 and then to $1,000.

Most of the funds are raised through the popular Soup’s On! luncheon held annually the last Friday in January at St. Kevin parish hall. Donations account for other contributions.

Soups are prepared by students from local high schools and Niagara College’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute, and by a local small business, Stephanie The Lunch Lady. Tickets for the three-sitting luncheon have remained at $10 each since the luncheon’s inception. Soup’s On! 2021 would have been the 19th annual fundraiser.

The committee hopes to hold a Soup’s On! in January, 2022 but a decision won’t be made until September.

Members of the committee are: Bernadette Barkovich, Jessica Soul, Wayne Campbell, and Joe Barkovich, chair.

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