It's a wrap. Catholic schools throughout Cook and Lake counties -- more than 200 of them -- competed in a friendly competition last fall to tackle hunger in the Chicago area, and when all the items were counted, St. Hubert School in Hoffman Estates took first place.
The results were announced late last month, during an all-school pep rally where the Chicago Bears' drum line performed, among the other dignitaries that attended.
After all, the competition had a Bears connection. As part of the "Soup-er Stadium Challenge," students were asked to collect enough food items to fill Soldier Field's seats -- more than 61,000 of them -- twice, and they more than met their goal.
St. Hubert students and families, alone, collected more than 8,000 items -- outdistancing their closest competition by 2,000 -- which were delivered to Catholic Charities' eight food pantries. As part of their prize, the entire student body will receive a guided tour this month of Soldier Field.
"It was a parish-wide effort," says Principal Kelly Bourrell. "Parish families and religious education students all participated. It was great teamwork and demonstrated just how much the school is a ministry of the parish."
Jarrett Payton, son of Bears running back Walter Payton, came to St. Hubert's personally to help to launch the collection back in September and the Charles Tillman's Cornerstone Foundation was one of the sponsors.
Yet, the Rev. Michael Scherschel, pastor, said students got behind the challenge for more than winning first place.
"We did it for those who need help, right now, to get by," Scherschel said. "It was the right thing to do, and we know that because we are people of faith, and that was the biggest motivator."
Kate LeFevour, from Catholic Charities Community Development and Outreach Services -- and an Arlington Heights native -- said the organization's shelves need to be restocked every 30 seconds.
Specifically, she pointed to the nearly 800,000 people in Cook and Lake counties who are experiencing food insecurity, and of those approximately 227,000 are children.
"At the most basic level, food insecurity means you don't know where or when your next meal will be," LeFevour said.
Student council members at St. Hubert spoke to worshippers at all of the Sunday services during the challenge to promote the food drive. There also were homeroom incentives, with the winning class getting the chance to play dodgeball against the faculty and staff.
But students also spent class time learning about the problem of food insecurity -- and just how it affects children their age, including an inability to succeed in school and ultimately experience issues with health and behavior.
"Each day of the food drive, we prayed for families and children who are hungry now," Scherschel added, "even those in our own communities."
At the pep rally, students and faculty alike cheered their first place title, emerging from a field of 214 Catholic schools who participated. Yet, they also left for the holiday break, feeling good about the joy of working together to help area families.
"Sure, it was great to win," Bourrell said, "but we know the number of families who will have food to eat over the holidays because of this."
Scherschel added that it warmed his heart to see the generosity of the parish and the teamwork that the drive instilled.
"The students should be commended," he said. "They really got behind doing this very important work."