Dante’s Gift of Giving: A 10-Year-Old’s Mission to Feed the Hungry


JERSEY CITY, N.J., Dec. 18, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — With the help of his grandparents, parents, and Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Newark [RCANCEM], Dante organized his fourth annual food drive, distributing 120 bags of food for the needy at Mercy House in Jersey City, its newest location.

10-year-old Dante-Olshefski helped load a truck during his food drive in Denville, NJ, in 2022.

As Mercy House expands, the need for food is even greater. And Dante’s initiative is more than just a charitable act; it’s a powerful message of hope and generosity.

“I wanted to do something nice for people who don’t have a lot,” says Olshefski, who couldn’t help but notice how long the line was when he arrived.

The significance of Olshefski’s act is profound, mainly when the cost of living has soared, and donations have dwindled. His efforts shine as a beacon of compassion in challenging times.

“Dante’s food drive is a reminder of our duty to care for one another,” explains Joseph Verzi, Dante’s grandfather and construction planning and development advisor for RCANCEM. “His actions embody the spirit of giving at the heart of our Catholic faith. And our faith tells us to be charitable.”

After collecting food donations at his school and home from Denville residents, his parents, Melissa and Chris Olshefski, and his grandparents, Gail and Joseph Verzi, separate everything so that each bag has an even amount of food collected including pasta, mac and cheese, tuna fish as well as breakfast items. They then distribute the food to anyone who lines up for the food donation, and the leftovers are given to the Mercy House pantry.

“As soon as I arrived, Dante greeted me with a warm smile and hug,” says Cheryl A. Riley, director of the Respect Life Office and The Mercy House. “He was welcomed by our many clients who were able to receive the bags along with onions and potatoes that another donor also donated. We look forward to Dante’s food collection each year. This food drive has become a part of our Mercy House tradition.”

In addition to food, the Mercy House in Jersey City provides shelter for 31 homeless women, who would otherwise have nowhere to go – a terrible burden any time of year, but especially during the Christmas holiday. They also provide clothing and baby supplies and help all who request assistance find employment and housing. Mercy House also has locations in Newark and Elizabeth, NJ.  

Verzi said these acts of kindness hold essential life lessons for people of all ages, as he expressed his gratitude to Andrew P. Schafer and Joseph Heckel, the outgoing and incoming executive directors of RCANCEM, for donating hundreds of reusable bags used to collect the food donations.

He was also grateful to the Catholic Cemeteries staff throughout the Archdiocese, who gave what they could for someone less fortunate.

“It demonstrates the power of taking initiative, the importance of empathy, and the profound impact of helping others,” Verzi concluded. “Dante’s story is an inspiring reminder of the difference one young individual can make. His food drive addresses immediate needs and nurtures a sense of community and shared responsibility.”

To learn how you can help Mercy House, visit rcan.org/mercy-house

To learn more about Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Newark, go to rcancem.org. 

The food distribution line appears longer this year at the new Mercy House in Jersey City, signifying a greater need for assistance throughout New Jersey due to the higher cost of living.

10-year-old Dante Olshefski and his mom, Melissa Olshefski, are overjoyed to help struggling families have more food on their table, especially during the Christmas season.

Catholic Cemeteries assist individuals and families before, during, and after losing a loved one. They also provide Monthly Masses of Remembrance celebrated at archdiocesan Catholic cemeteries throughout the year, typically during the first week of each month and on special days. Contact a caring and professional Memorial Planning Advisor at cemetery@rcan.org or learn more at www.CatholicJourney.org. (PRNewsfoto/Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Newark)

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SOURCE Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Newark

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