DE PERE, Wis. - A group at St. Norbert College in De Pere is literally giving the shirts off their backs to help the homeless. Students who are taking a Sacred Art and Architecture course recently visited St. John the Evangelist Church and Homeless Shelter in Green Bay. While they admired the beautiful design of the more than 100-year-old building, it's what's happening inside that inspired them the most.
"We were getting a tour. We were asking questions and taking notes, and one of the things that we wanted to know was is there something that we can do beyond just this classroom visit," said Senior Matthew Matuszak.
The homeless shelter serves about 85 people a night from November to April.
Many times our guests have what they're wearing on them or shoved in a backpack, so they don't have the extra change of clothes or the warmest coat or any coat," explained the shelter's Volunteer Coordinator, Laurie Reinen.
Compelled to help, Matuszak and his classmates asked their instructor if they could do a service project.
He said, "Being at St. Norbert, with such a huge service learning component, that made it really easy. Father Nielsen was thrilled when we wanted to do this, so overall I think it was a unanimous type of decision."
The students dug through their closets and into their pockets. They donated their own clothing and used their own money to purchase groceries to pack bag lunches for the homeless.
Matuszak said, "Once the guests leave on Friday morning, they'll have a meal to take with them when they're out on the streets for any number of hours until the shelter opens back up."
The students hand-delivered 70 bag lunches to the shelter and more than 120 clothing items including sweatshirts, socks and warm, winter gear.
"Usually with group projects in school, sometimes it feels like a burden making a deadline, making a presentation, but this was different because it wasn't focused on us. It's focused on other people," said Senior Sarah Parbs.
Shelter leaders wish the class could see first-hand how grateful the guests are for their gifts.
Reinen said, "I get to say thank you at the door and tell them thank you, thank you, but they don't get to see the reaction from the guests which is unfortunate because it just makes you want to keep doing it. It's infectious."
Parbs and her classmates said just knowing in their heart that they're making a difference is reward enough.
"I think that should be part of everyone's life, putting others that don't have as much as you before you."
The students believe learning the value of service at a younger age is giving them a better sense of what it means to be an engaged and active citizen in the community.
St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter is NBC26's current 3 Degree Guarantee partner. Right now, they're in need of men's ski gloves, underwear, and paper plates and cups for their feeding program. You can drop-off donations right at the shelter at 411 St. John Street in Green Bay.