On Saturday, when most people her age would be preparing to spend time with their families on Easter, 13-year-old Katie Williams was traveling around St. Louis looking for homeless people to help.
Chaperoned by her father and grandfather, Katie delivered 12 Easter “care” baskets to the first dozen homeless individuals she encountered.
“At first, I was kind of nervous,” the Waterloo Junior High School student recalled. “But when I started meeting them, I realized they were probably more nervous than I was. After the first person, I felt a lot better and a lot more comfortable walking up to them and being friendly with them… They were all so nice. It was a great experience.”
That experience was the culmination of a service project Katie performed for her confirmation at St. Paul United Church of Christ in Waterloo.
Confirmation is a process adolescents in the UCC denomination participate in to become a member of the church and learn more about their faith, as it recognizes youths’ ability to make decisions about their religion.
In order to be confirmed at St. Paul UCC, children must earn a certain number of points by completing tasks ranging from attending church to completing service projects.
More points are awarded based on the duration of the project, which is meant to help adolescents learn to serve like the Bible says Jesus did.
“Katie took it from there and ran with it,” Katie’s father, Heath, said.
Katie, who has been in the confirmation process for two years, had the idea to do the baskets for her project.
“I’ve been to a lot of cities, and I think it’s really sad seeing homeless people on the streets,” she explained. “I’ve always felt really bad walking by them, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to give back to them like I always wanted to.”
Heath was not so sure about the idea at first, but his daughter convinced him of its soundness.
“She said, ‘dad, if it’s a husband and wife whose homeless on the street, they may not go to a shelter because it may be an all men’s or all women’s shelter and they want to be together. Or they may have a dog, so they wouldn’t want to go to a shelter,’” Heath said. “So she really enlightened me on why some people may not go to shelters if there is an opportunity for them.”
So, Katie and her family contacted about 60 different organizations in Monroe County and spoke with family members about donating money or items to her project.
They received strong support, with two of the biggest contributors being the WJHS Student Council and Waterloo High School chapter of the National Honor Society.
Katie and her sister, Emily, are members of those organizations, respectively.
“It was a lot bigger project than I thought it was going to be,” Katie said. “We got so many ideas as we kept getting new materials. There was a lot of stuff in the bag that we weren’t even going to originally put in there or weren’t thinking about.”
With her materials collected, Katie assembled the 12 baskets, which were actually tote bags.
She filled each one with items like hygiene products, food, clothing and more.
The Williams family then drove to St. Louis, starting in South County, and driving up I-55 to Arsenal Street.
“I thought we were going to get rid of (the baskets) within like an hour or so, but we couldn’t find as many people as we thought we were going to,” Katie noted. “So I didn’t think it was unfair at all because anyone we saw we just gave them a bag.”
After that experience, Katie said she thought the project was an important part of the confirmation process, in part because it gave her an opportunity to help those she wanted to help.
“I’ve heard about what other people have been doing (for confirmation) and I thought it was great, they came up with lots of ideas, but I really wanted to go above and beyond to do something that’s always been special to me and that I’ve always wanted to do,” she said.
Katie will be confirmed May 12.