Student leads effort to aid those in need

By Bill Althaus

On the first day of his Coats for a Cause clothing drive at St. Michael the Archangel, senior Jacob Smitka walked past one of the six distribution barrels at the Lee’s Summit high school and was pleased to see a few jackets.

St. Michael the Archangel senior, Jacob Smitka, left to right, and friends Cooper Garlick and John Samson begin packing some of the 296 coats that were collected in Smitka's Coats for a Cause charity drive at the Lee's Summit high school.

“That was the first day,” said Smitka, who used the drive as part of his effort to earn the rank of  Eagle Scout in Troop 1178 in Independence. “Then, every time I looked, there were more and more coats.”

Smitka, who coordinated the drive with Sr. Jade Andrew, the coordinator of LifeHope at the high school, had hoped to collect around 150 coats to be delivered to homeless men and women through Morning Glory Ministries’ programs at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

“My mom and brother and I have worked at Morning Glory Ministries, and I always noticed that they didn’t have many coats for adults or children, so I made a goal of collecting more than 100 coats,” he said. “Boy, was I surprised by our total number.”

Smitka, students, friends and staff from St. Michael delivered 296 coats to the Kansas City shelter Wednesday in boxes and bags that filled the back of a pickup truck.

“When we got there, all the director John Kraus – who has become a good friend of mine – could say was, ‘Wow! Thank you!’”

Kraus said Smitka’s effort was a blessing for his ministry program.

“We didn’t design it this way, but about 98 percent of the folks we serve are men, and one of the ways we receive coats to help them out changed, because of the pandemic, so this was truly a blessing,” Kraus said. “We served 7,100 individuals last year, and to get the call from Jacob and to receive the coats is so exciting.”

Kraus’ comment was echoed by Jodi Briggs, the principal at St. Michael.

“Our unique Community System develops servant leaders through opportunities such a Jacob's Eagle Scout Project,” Briggs said. “We were honored and blessed to support Jacob in his efforts to help those in our local community. The overwhelming support of the SMA student body is just an example of how the students live out our mission to ‘Know Truth, Love God and Serve Others’ as His brave and humble disciples.”

Smitka is part of the St. Maximilian Kolbe Community System at St. Michael. The Community System is comparable to student councils at public high schools. Kolbe was a Polish Catholic priest and Conventual Franciscan friar who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the German death camp at Auschwitz during World War II.

“It’s such an honor to be a Community System that remembers St. Maximilian Kolbe, and it is inspiring to work with Sr. Jade Andrew, who helped me throughout the entire drive – from start to beginning," Smitka said.

Sr. Andrew says the Community System at SMA works to build authentic relationships among students and to form student leaders.

“Seniors are eligible to apply and interview to be student leaders,” Sr. Andrew said. Those leaders are called captains.  

“Big Gives are a perfect opportunity to make this a reality. Captains, like Jacob Smitka, organize the drive by working out the necessary details to determine the need and the best way to approach it. They then communicate with administration, teachers and the student body to encourage the student body to be generous in their service of others. We rally behind these Big Gives by earning Community points, fostering both team building and friendly competition within the school.”

“This year, Jacob, a House Captain in the Kolbe Community, made all the contacts with MGM to find out what they most needed. He then drafted an outline of his plan for collecting the coats and transporting them to MGM. Jacob worked with his fellow Captains to determine how to motivate the students to participate.”

“We set a goal for each community,” Smitka said, “assigned points and turned it into a friendly competition.”

The school’s goal was 150 coats, and Kolbe Community – Jacob's Community – brought in 155 coats alone.