The Baldwin-Escambia Deanery of the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women (ACCW) recently held their quarterly meeting at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lillian.
After reports from various groups in the organization, the members attended Mass in the church. After lunch Austin Gontarski, a 7th grade student at St. Patrick Catholic School in Robertsdale, told about his experiences in collecting $9,000 from area businesses to provide food for the Catholic Social Services (CSS) of Baldwin County Backpack Program.
The backpacks are given to area schools to distribute to boys and girls in struggling families who might not have sufficient food to get them through the weekend. In the three years he has been working on the project, he has collected more than $18,000 in cash and food donations.
Austin walked into CSS one day in 2017 and asked Director Phyllis Beam if there was anything he could do to help. She explained the backpack program to him and he took it from there.
In speaking about one of her star students, St. Patrick Principal Sr. Margaret Harte said the school teaches students to “be God’s light to the world.”
“I feel confident in our future when we produce children like Austin,” says Sr. Margaret. She praised Austin’s parents, Greg and Jennifer Gontarski, saying, “Values begin at home.”
Austin plans to enjoy the summer and return to school in the fall to get back in backpack mode. Since this will be his last year at St. Patrick, he will continue to help his younger friends to continue the program.
After graduation in 2020, Austin will move on to St. Michael Catholic High School in Fairhope, where his parents, teachers and friends at CSS predict he will be a dedicated leader.