St. Clare School photo
St. Clare kindergartners with busy bags.
St. Clare School photo
St. Clare kindergartners with busy bags.


Service is a way of life at St. Clare School in Southwest Portland. Many projects woven into each grade’s curriculum provide greater meaning to daily lessons, and give students the opportunity to explore their faith on a deeper level.

St. Clare kindergartners were recently looking for a unique way to be of service during Advent, so their teacher Shannon Winningham reached out to Catholic Charities to see how they could help. Jeanne Toal and Megan Kelly of the Refugee Resettlement program had an idea. Their program assists refugees with resources for food, shelter, and clothing — items new families need to survive — but doesn’t provide any extras for the children.

What if St. Clare kindergartners put together “busy bags” to help those children get through long hours spent waiting in lines at government offices, social service agencies and medical clinics? It would be a partner project between the kindergartners and the Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement program, the first of its kind.

It was a perfect fit for the youngsters, and tied in nicely to an ongoing classroom discussion of the differences between “needs” and “wants." Kelly came to visit the class and told students that most refugee children arrive with only the clothes on their backs, having escaped war-torn, impoverished countries. What would kindergartners wish for in their shoes? What would they suggest to make things easier for the children? The answers came quickly: coloring books and crayons, markers, stamps and stickers, play dough, puzzles, and small hand-held toys.  Students got straight to work designing the bags. Parents took them shopping.  And kindergartners learned you are never too small to make a difference, in this case providing 17 overflowing reusable bags that say, “Welcome home."