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December 16, 2016
CENTRAL/WESTERN N.J. – Parishes in the Diocese of Metuchen are working to ensure people in their local communities have a joyous Christmas.
Evidence of their efforts can be seen in churches, parish gathering areas and offices, and Catholic school cafeterias and gymnasiums, where packages and canned goods lie in wait until they can be sorted and distributed, often close to home, to those in need.
For months leading up to Christmas, staff and volunteers begin planning the parish-based Advent and Christmas giving programs.
Susan Erickson, vice president of the ministry of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul associated with St. Ambrose Parish in Old Bridge, said the ministry begins planning for their Christmas giving program in November.
“At Thanksgiving, when we distribute turkeys and trimmings to over 40 clients, we ask each family to complete a survey for us – a Christmas survey,” Erickson said. “We ask about their circumstance and their specific needs…after that determination, we get to work.”
Such giving programs, which assist all people in need, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity, exist in every parish around the four-county diocese, comprised of Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren.
At St. John Neumann Parish in Califon, volunteers begin coordinating the parish’s giving tree program in early October, said Karen Porto, a parishioner who heads the program. It is then that volunteers contact the organizations the parish will support during the Christmas season, to gather their wish lists.
In November, tags for the tree are created and parishioners are invited to select a tag and shop for the requested items written on them. The donated gifts are returned in early December, when they are then sorted and distributed to the participating organizations, which this year include nursing homes, drug rehabilitation centers and other organizations that help the homeless and families in need.
“Adults and children get involved,” said Porto. “This year, we had over 125 families participate in our giving tree.”
Through the annual giving tree program, the parish collects about 230 gifts to help those who otherwise might go without during the Christmas season.
“It is heartwarming to see so many of our parishioners involved in such a selfless act of generosity,” said Porto. “Some of the recipients of these gifts do not have any other family, and it brings them such joy.”
Arlene Pidgeon, parish secretary at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Hackettstown, echoed similar sentiments about the generosity of the volunteers and parishioners who contribute to the giving programs. This year, the parish’s programs include a giving tree as well as the Caring Kitchen – a soup kitchen which operates November to May in the cafeteria, providing hot meals and grocery gift cards to those in need. In December, the parish’s Rosary Altar Society sponsors a “baby shower” to collect baby items that benefit the Life Choices Resource Center in Metuchen, an organization which serves mothers and families who are faced with difficult or unplanned pregnancies.
“Everyone benefits from the parish community’s generosity, including the giver,” said Pidgeon. “Our church community is a very generous one – they want to give and look forward to the chance to do that, especially at this time of year.”
This year, the parish’s giving tree will help 70 families and 35 children, said Pidgeon. Once all tags from the tree have been claimed, Pidgeon said, many call the parish office seeking additional opportunities to contribute.
At St. Mary-Stony Hill Parish in Watchung, parishioners participate in Advent and Christmas giving programs such as a collection of new clothing for the men housed at the Ozanam Inn in New Brunswick, a temporary homeless shelter run by Catholic Charities, Diocese of Metuchen. Last year, the parish delivered more than 400 gifts to the men.
In addition, each year during the Christmas season, the parish holds a coat and toy drive to benefit St. Ann’s Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry, which serves the homeless and working poor in Newark, and the parish’s 55 and older group participates in the “Adopt-A-Family” program, which aids local families in need.
At St. Mary-Stony Hill and for many parishes which offer assistance to those in need during the Christmas season, the giving continues year round.
“As a parish, we are generous not only at this time of the year, but all year round,” said Pidgeon. “We try not to turn anyone away, if possible, and always help to the best of our ability with compassion, understanding and the love of Jesus Christ in our hearts.”
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