Hands covered in hot dog juices and cold tomato soup, 11-year-old Joshua Geathers thought yesterday about the homeless man he has seen near the garbage containers behind his downtown Baltimore middle school.
"We have a homeless person in the back of our school, and I think this food would really cheer him up," said Joshua, a sixth-grader at Mother Seton Academy.
The hot dogs and tomato soup were two of the key ingredients in more than 450 casseroles prepared yesterday for the Our Daily Bread food kitchen by sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from the School of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen and Mother Seton Academy.
Yesterday's huge cafeteria assembly line, organized by Cathedral sixth-grader Michael Marrinan, was part of National Youth Service Day in Baltimore. He was awarded a $1,000 grant from State Farm Insurance after winning a service project competition.
"I was very excited because I didn't think I was going to win," Michael said yesterday as he watched dozens of pupils stirring the ingredients. "I just hope this will inspire other kids to help other people.
In all, 7,290 hot dogs, 1,300 cans of baked beans, 450 cans of tomato soup and 225 packets of chili powder went into the casseroles that will feed about 2,700 people, said Michael's mother, Kristina Marrinan, who helped coordinate the project.
While pouring tomato soup and dumping baked beans into the aluminum pans, opinions were split over how tasty the casseroles would be. But all of the pupils smiled, knowing they were helping the less fortunate.
"It makes you feel great about helping people who are starving," said Hannah Douglas, a sixth-grader at Cathedral.
As expenses for the food kitchen have risen over the past year, Marion Connolly, director of development for Catholic Charities, said projects such as yesterday's have become crucial for Our Daily Bread to continue feeding about 1,000 people per day.
"It's fabulous to see so many enthusiastic young people helping the needy like this," she said.
A letter-writing campaign by Michael seeking donations enabled the students to make so many casseroles. Super Fresh president Harry Austin, whose grocery store company matched the State Farm grant, said he was surprised when he found out a 12-year-old wrote the donation letter.
"I feel it's really heartwarming to see what Michael is about and to see how he's about helping others," Austin said.
For his efforts, the mayor and governor's offices drafted proclamations commending Michael, which were presented before the children started.
Early yesterday morning, Kristina Marrinan said a small group of parents showed up early to cut up the hot dogs and open the cans of baked beans and tomato soup. The children only had to dump the ingredients together, stir them and cover the casseroles with aluminum foil.
This is not the first time the Cathedral cafeteria has been used as a hot-dog-casserole factory. The first Tuesday of every month, pupils and their families make trays of this dish for the food kitchen. But they never make as many as yesterday.
"It's wonderful to see the kids do this every month," said Cathedral Vice Principal Tara Noonan. "Most of these kids don't have any idea what it's like to go hungry."
After the casseroles were packed into flower vans donated by Mitchell-Wiedefeld Funeral Home and the pupils finished cleaning up, Michael and his mother said that all the preparations were worth it.
"It was great to see everyone working together," Michael said. "I hope the people realize who they are feeding."