The Prep Continued to Serve, Even During the Pandemic

By Erick Woods P ’23

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down many school operations last spring, one thing remained constant: the Prep continued to serve our community. From supplying lunches for hospital front line workers to providing meals for those most in need, the Prep’s Ignatian Service Office found new and creative ways to allow our students and faculty/staff, as well as alumni, to continue our tradition of caring for our community. Mr. Erick Woods P ’23 was the main organizer of these activities and has written a reflection on that work.

As a long time admirer of St. Joseph’s Prep and everything the institution stands for and represents not only in our city but throughout the country and world, I entered my role as Campus Minister for Ignatian Service with a real sense of responsibility and on a mission to do the Lord’s work. A responsibility to do a great job and represent the Prep name, to the best of my ability, but more importantly to ensure that everyone was able to see Jesus through our work.

Almost immediately, challenges to living out these responsibilities presented themselves. Just three weeks after starting at the Prep, the world would shut down, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving our school building closed and all activities halted. At that moment, hard decisions had to be made about the direction of our service activities for the foreseeable future.  At a time when the entire world stood still, we in the Office of Mission and Ministry explored ways to impact our community and make a difference in the lives of our neighbors during these trying times. The COVID-19 pandemic created many hurdles to the mission, but for every hurdle, there was even more service to be done.

Leading during times of uncertainty, gave us an opportunity to be creative and challenge our Prep Community to believe in our ability to come together as Champions of our community, a community that would face great challenges during the pandemic. In doing so, there were three goals I wanted to accomplish: 1) instill a sense of responsibility in the minds of our students when it comes to serving others. I want them to realize the importance of thinking outside of themselves during challenging times and think of the challenges that their neighbors may be facing; 2) as a leader in our city, I wanted to show our neighbors and our community that we would be there for them in times of need. This aspect was very important to me, as we are located in the center of an, oftentimes, excluded and forgotten community; 3) bring members of the Prep community together, to accomplish great things. Over the last year, students, parents, colleagues, alumni, teams, coaches, and affinity groups all contributed to the success of our service initiatives. In the process lasting relationships and a confidence were built through the service of others.

Looking back at the many ways we were able to impact our community, I would say that our approach to the issue of food insecurity in the community was something of which I am most proud. What started out as raising money and donating food to elementary students and healthcare workers on the front lines has grown into bi-weekly food giveaway initiatives from the Prep parking lot, thanks to our community partner, Caring for Friends. Since last June, our food giveaway initiatives have provided more than 5,000 boxes of food to our neighbors.

Another initiative that gave me a real sense of pride, was our Desks from Dads giveaway.  During the pandemic, virtual learning was a way of life for all school students. With this came many challenges for kids in our community, with one being a lack of access to a dedicated learning space while at home. To eliminate this, the Prep Fathers’ Club came together to build, paint, and deliver over 80 desks to students from the Gesu School and a number of other local elementary schools. The gratitude shown from families and students who received a desk was overwhelming. In addition, the commardere and teamwork of the Fathers Club was the driving force behind the project; fathers and sons, working together, building relationships, was a rewarding experience for all involved.

One final initiative that deserves mention and highlight, was our MLK Day Coats and Toiletry drive. During this drive, the entire Prep community, especially our students, stepped up to donate, sort, organize, and deliver over 400 coats and 500 bags of toiletries to local homeless shelters. Once this need was brought to the attention of Prep Nation, we collectively sprang into action, surpassing my expectations.

As I continue to reflect on the past year and our ability to serve our community at a high level,  I find myself returning to a sense of community and a sense of gratitude. The service that we were able to provide to our neighbors and community during challenging times would not have been possible without the support and buy-in from the entire Prep community. Being new to the institution and to the work in general, I was not sure how my vision would be embraced, so I remained faithful and trusted God through the process. Trusting that our community would follow my lead, knowing that the institution that I have admired for so long would live up to its reputation and stand as Champions for our community. What I found was a community that far exceeded my expectations.

I am forever grateful for the opportunity to lead at the Prep.

Mr. Woods, the father of Erick ’23, served as the Prep’s Campus Minister for Ignatian Service for nearly two years. This month, he left to join Saint Joseph’s University, his alma mater, to be the Director of Student-Athlete Development. We are grateful for his work at the Prep and his continued involvement here as a father and colleague.

Woods with two Prep students during a food giveaway with State Rep. Joanna McClinton
At the Caring for Friends headquarters. Woods instituted a partnership that has helped to provide food for hundreds of families in North Philadelphia.
With a Gesu School student during the Desks From Dads Project giveaway.
Woods with a group of seniors on the first service trip that he had organized during the pandemic, giving out lunch bags at State Sen. Sharif Street’s office.