DRACUT — The children and teens bringing food donations in their school backpacks for End 68 Hours of Hunger to the St. Francis altar last weekend had yet to be born on Sept. 11, 2001.
They did not know Capt. John Ogonowski, pilot of American Airlines Flight 11 on 9/11/01, Dracut farmer and a parishioner of St. Francis.
They did not know of his kindness and the many ways he helped others, especially immigrant farmers.
Yet they learned as a result of Be Kind Like the Captain, a 9/11 service project at St. Francis in memory of Ogonowski, commemorating the 18th anniversary of 9/11.
The “Servant Song” played as children of all ages brought their donations of peanut butter, cereal, snacks and other needed items up during the offertory and dropped them into baskets on the altar steps. Those baskets were surrounded by mums and other fall plants from the neighboring Ogonowski family farm.
In time, those donations will be packed into backpacks for Dracut children who may not have enough food over the 68 hours of the weekend.
Cameron Young of Dracut, 4, wore his preschool backpack as he proudly brought up his donations.
“It made me happy because there are people with no food and I was able to give them some,” he said.
Fr. Seán Maher, administrator, blessed the children’s backpacks before they returned to the pews with their families.
“It is great to see kids helping kids, helping their neighbor in need, as the Lord asked,” said Maher. “Practicing their faith through kindness was modeled by Captain John Ogonowski and is the way to live life fully. In giving, we receive.”
Out on the church plaza, an Apple Pie Sale was hosted by the parish’s Homeless Ministry, and a Farmer’s Market was hosted by neighboring Saja Farm. In memory of Ogonowski, proceeds benefited the ministry’s weekly service to the homeless community of Lowell.
After Masses, parishioners gathered in large numbers around both. Karen Caron traveled from Tewksbury to take part in Mass and the service project.
“You want to be able to contribute in some way, and it’s always so warm and welcoming here,” Caron said. “It’s great when they do events like this.”
Over 60 volunteers, including Peg Hatch,Ogonowski’s widow, spent Friday night and Saturday peeling and cutting apples, mixing and rolling from-scratch dough, and baking 235 pies. The proceeds from these pies, which sold out quickly, will be used to purchase hats, gloves, blankets and other winter items for the homeless.
“There is such a need out there. We see people without warm clothing in the winter, holes in their socks, hungry,” said Deacon John Hunt, who founded the St. Teresa of Calcutta Homeless Ministry at St. Francis.
Helping the hungry and homeless in Ogonowski’s memory reflects “the kindness of heart that John had, that Peggy has – she was peeling apples with us — and it also ties in his love for his faith, farming and family,” Hunt added.
Jan Dargue, who coordinated the pie baking, said she couldn’t think of “a better way to commemorate the fallen from 9/11. The people of the parish have come to love this 9/11 apple pie fundraiser, but it would not have been possible without the apple donation from Saja Farm as well as those who volunteered their time and efforts.”
Sharon Coram, a volunteer with the Homeless Ministry, was especially inspired by the involvement of the younger generation remembering 9/11 and Capt. Ogonowski.
“It was a weekend of non-stop giving and doing so happily. It was heartwarming to see the number of volunteers, including many young adults and young children with their parents, helping to make apple pies for the homeless – then return on Sunday with food donations for End 68 Hours of Hunger,” she said.
“The joyful and generous spirit of these young givers gives me hope.”