*It's hard to believe the 15 tons of donations collected every year during Lent at the St. Vincent de Paul Society started with one teenager's promise to give to others--a Lenten promise the 17-year-old Marian High School senior didn't get to keep for himself.
"Unfortunately he died in the car accident the very next day," said Eric's mother, Mary Molnar, a South Bend resident.
But his mother would keep Eric Henry's promise for him.
"I needed to take those things that he wanted to St. Vincent depaul. That's what he would want," said Molnar.
And others inspired by her example would follow suit.
"A month later at a memorial mass at Marian High School, I was sitting there during the mass and unbeknownst to me, the students and his classmates had been collecting the whole month after his funeral. It was amazing. They walked up with clothes in bags up to the altar," said Molnar.
Since then, word has spread about Eric's Promise, the yearly donation drive that takes place in the South Bend area during Lent.
"To me, it's a little miracle...I never could have imagined it growing as much," said Molnar.
Over the years,15 tons of clothing donations have come in as a result of people taking part in the Eric's Promise effort. Organizers at the St. Vincent de Paul Society say this comes at a particularly meaningful time for them, because Lent is normally a time that's slow for donations.
"What Eric has done, what his memory has done, what the family has carried on has allowed us to really make a difference during a time of year that would otherwise go unnoticed," said Charles Thompson, executive director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of St. Joseph County in South Bend.
The family has kept the tradition going for 11 years by reaching out to more schools and other organizations.
Thompson says the donations really help, because St. Vincent's gives away about $100,000 worth of goods every year to people who can't afford to buy them at the thrift store.
Thompson says many people don't realize things like dishes, old appliances and old clothing can give those who are struggling the buffer they need to get by.
It's the difference between a mother, father, a child being able to have a meal tonight and going hungry. It's the difference between sitting at home in a cold, unheated apartment and being able to have that warmth," said Thompson.
The center says every little bit helps and is currently looking for more volunteers to help sort clothing. St. Vincent's is also continuing to look for more donations.
To find out how you can volunteer, visit svdpsb.org or call (574) 234-6000.
*NOTE: An earlier version of this article said that 15 tons of donations have come in to the St. Vincent de Paul Society as a result of the Eric's Promise effort over the course of 11 years. The story should have said 15 tons of donations have come in to the St. Vincent de Paul Society every year as a result of the Eric's Promise effort.