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Father Pat Stenson joins Amy Kitowicz and her class on stage at the lunch kitchen.
Tanya Ackerman/Coastal Observer

Schools: With catchy tunes, community service catches on for first-graders

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The lunch crowd at Father Pat’s Kitchen got two desserts last week. Make that three if you count the selection of Christmas music from a class of first-graders at Waccamaw Elementary.

It was the ninth year that Amy Kitowicz brought her first-grade class to the lunch kitchen at Precious Blood of Christ Catholic Church. “It’s a community service project,” said Flynn Kane, 7, one of the students. “I don’t know what that means.”

“You help other people,” Joe Burroughs, 6, explained.

Kitowicz, a parishioner, started bringing her students to sing carols and give out hand-made ornaments the first year the kitchen opened. It’s named for the Rev. Patrick Stenson. This will be Father Pat’s last Christmas at the kitchen. He is due to retire next month.

“It will be hard to give this up after 17 years,” he said as he watched the students scamper around the stage in the dining area between performances.

Of course, he might stay around. “If there’s a need,” he said. “It’s getting to be a little much.” Otherwise, he might return to his past role with the military. “A consultant. That sort of thing,” he said.

The first-graders started weeks ago rehearsing their songs and making beaded Christmas ornaments to hand out. “We all had to do 10,” Joe said.

They also got a lesson on the history and purpose of Father Pat’s Kitchen, Kitowicz said. So they kicked the performance up a notch when Stenson arrived in the audience. None more so than Flynn, who was inspired to dance.

“Miss Kitowicz, I’ve got the Christmas spirit today,” she told her teacher.

The class and crowd favorite wasn’t one of the holiday standards but a tune that Kitowicz incorporated after hearing it in a third grade musical. “There’s a Big Red Fella in the Chimney” was written by John Jacobson and John Higgins for the musical “Once on a Housetop.” It’s about chimney sweeps who learn about different ways people celebrate during Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

“It’s a fun one,” Flynn said, with plenty of movements and gestures.

“I’d never heard it before,” said Joe.

Neither had the regular volunteers. “But it’s cute,” one said.

Neither had Anna Burroughs, Joe’s mom. “It’s my favorite,” she said.

She also liked the idea behind the field trip, which took the students just a few hundred yards up Waverly Road from the school. “It’s an important thing to do; to give back,” Anna Burroughs said.

Stenson was impressed by the fact that the children were happy to be helping.

“The children really got into it and the purpose for it,” Kitowicz said. Their first question when they got back to school was, “can we do it again?”

But the best comment she heard was from the mother of a former student, now in second grade. She wanted to do another service project. “That tells me it’s working,” Kitowicz said. “It’s not just one and done.”

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