From the heart: St. Joan of Arc students create bracelets for hurricane relief

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Rina Manfredo was just 7 years old when she decided she wanted to give all her money away. Students at St. Joan of Arc School in Marlton, where she was then a second-grader, were collecting for missions to Honduras, and Rina wanted to help.

“She gave her allowance, and because family members were seeing her give away all her money, they gave her more – and she gave that too,” her mother Christina Manfredo said of Rina’s fundraising, which ultimately added up to $100. “We said: ‘You can’t just ask people for money. Maybe we can make something to sell or do something to earn it.”

So after brainstorming with her crafty aunt Victoria Farnesi, Rina began making beaded bracelets to sell. The first year, she made enough bracelets to donate $400 for the missions. This past school year, she recruited her big brother Salvatore, little sister Angelina (all three pictured below on right) and their close friends Matt, Ben, and Zac Mrvica (pictured below on left) in the effort.

Together (and with occasional help from more friends), they made so many bracelets that they were able to raise $1,040. After hearing about how Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the children decided the money should support hurricane relief and sent the money to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton last week.

“It makes me feel good that I’m spending time to do this, that I’m not just doing this to make money to spend on myself,” said Rina, now 9, who will be a fifth grader at St. Joan of Arc this fall. “I’m giving it to other people so they could maybe buy a house if it got destroyed in a hurricane.”

Lisa Mrvica, a former PTA president at St. Joan of Arc, and Christina Manfredo helped the kids organize their effort. They named their creations “Heartbeads” and decided to make a “gratitude bracelet” and a “prayer bracelet” to remind buyers to be thankful for what they have and pray for someone in need each time they put one on. They also printed tags with the slogan “Children sharing love one bead at a time.”

The kids want to continue their effort over the summer and during the upcoming school year. “Once another problem comes out like any other natural disasters that happen that are a big deal and cause a lot of destruction and stuff, we’ll start making them again and give it to them,” Rina said.

Matt, 13, agreed: “When Hurricane Sandy hit us, New Jersey had a lot of damage, and a lot of people came to help. So this is the right thing to do.”

The kids saw a big bump in business over the holidays, with friends and relatives placing orders for bracelets. Going forward, they’re considering participating in a craft show to sell bracelets to raise more money – although they’ll make them for whoever wants to support their efforts (email cmmanfredo@gmail.com for details).

The kids love seeing friends and strangers wearing their creations, their mothers said.

“The carry-on afterwards is so special, to see people walking around still wearing them and hopefully thinking of things they’re grateful for or people they’re praying for,” Christina Manfredo said. “None of this would have taken off if it wasn’t for the kids wanting to give back. That’s something they get from going to St. Joan of Arc. They’re always being taught to give back to those in need; it’s refreshing to see that in children. And we like passing it on to Catholic Charities because we know the money is being put to good use.”

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton assists in natural disaster relief in Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties. Money earmarked for other relief efforts will be sent to Catholic Charities USA for disbursement in affected areas. Catholic Charities USA has raised millions for recovery efforts in Puerto Rico (as well as other hurricane-ravaged areas like Houston).

For more information, contact: Dana DiFilippo, communications, at ddifilippo@cctrenton.org or (609) 394-5181, ext. 1153.

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