- by Mount Saint Mary College
Marie-Therese Sulit overseeing students as they work to create Blessing Bags.

An all-star team of Mount Saint Mary College scholars recently collected personal hygiene items and packed nearly 200 Blessing Bags for those in need.

The drive collected approximately 25 grocery bags full of hygiene items, such as soap, mouthwash, toothpaste, and more. The items were separated into bags for men, women, or either by about a dozen fast-working students.

The completed Blessing Bags were distributed to the Newburgh Ministry and Catholic Charities of Orange, Ulster, and Sullivan counties. In addition, boxes of family-size bulk items, including diapers, toilet paper, shampoo, and conditioner, were donated to Project Life, a family shelter a few blocks from the Newburgh Ministry.

The donation drive was sponsored by the Mount's Campus Ministry, the Dominican Scholars of Hope, the Honors Program, and two honor societies on campus: Alpha Chi, the honor society for general scholarship, and Sigma Tau Chapter 451 of Kappa Delta Pi (KDP), the international honor society in education. The students and administration of Bishop Dunn Memorial School, a Catholic, K-8 school on the campus of the Mount, also lent their aid to the project.

Marie-Therese Sulit, associate professor of English, director of the Mount's Honors Program, and faculty advisor for Alpha Chi, spearheaded the effort. She was aided by Charles Zola, assistant to the President for Mission Integration, director of the Catholic and Dominican Institute, and associate professor of Philosophy; Fr. Gregoire Fluet, director of Campus Ministry and Campus Chaplain; KDP Mount co-counselors Ludmila Smirnova, professor of Education, and Sonya Abbye-Taylor, associate professor of Education; and Nancy Benfer '04, principal of Bishop Dunn Memorial School. Student leaders included Leanna Vergis of Brockport, N.Y.; Katie Murray of Highland Mills, N.Y.; Nick Tucker of the Bronx, N.Y.; and Kaitlyn Lauro of Farmingdale, N.Y., who created the fliers for the drive, as well as the cards included with each Blessing Bag.

"This was a wonderful project and again underscores the Mount's commitment to helping those in need in our local community," said Fr. Fluet.

The donation drive had its genesis in the late winter months of 2021, Sulit explained.

"I approached Fr. Greg with this idea of a donation drive for toiletries, bearing in mind the Honors Program has wanted to do some kind of donation drive for past couple of years," she said.

Fr. Fluet aided in centralizing the Mount's efforts, since Kappa Delta Pi had also approached him with a similar idea. Combining their efforts increased the reach of the program.

KDP has worked with the Newburgh Ministry for about five years, engaging in literacy activities, cooking, gardening, and more with children ages 5 to 13. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, KDP teacher candidates hosted an after school literacy program, The Wonderful World of Words, at the ministry.

"This is just one example of ways members of KDP collaborated this year," explained Taylor. "We promote collaboration in education -- the more we model collaborative behavior, the more our students learn the skills [and] begin to value and feel the joy of effective collaborative efforts."

The final piece of the puzzle was Zola and the Dominican Scholars of Hope, said Sulit.

"Given their track record of community service, I approached...Zola and the Dominican Scholars, so it all fell into place," Sulit explained. She added that "the Dominican Scholars of Hope truly helped with every organizational step, including setting up the boxes and checking on the donations."

Zola was more than happy to add the Dominican Scholars to the mix.

"This project eloquently exemplifies Mount Saint Mary College's Dominican identity," he said. "For us, responding to the needs of the community through service is not a theoretical ideal, but a reality and integral aspect of the Mount's mission."


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