Written by Karen Mahoney
All the presents have been opened.
So now what?
The pre-Christmas retail season is largely about planning and anticipation. You spend a month or more fighting your way through the maze of shoppers at the malls; risking life and limb to string brightly colored lights on your house; and trying in vain to get a good night’s sleep despite the clamoring of sugar-crazed youngsters awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.
Then, in a frenzy of torn wrapping paper, shredded ribbons and bows that are tossed away faster than Great Aunt Edna’s fruitcake, it’s over.
We are with loved ones; we attend Mass and give praise to God for the birth of Jesus. We often put aside our differences, hug, kiss, laugh, sing, tell jokes and love a lot more than we do on most other days of the year.
For a while, when everyone is gathered around the Christmas tree, we all, regardless of circumstances, celebrate the joy of giving and receiving. We stretch our wallets to help those in need to have a holiday dinner on their table and gifts under the tree. The world seems to stop its hectic pace during this unique, 24-hour period, and for a while, everyone seems to care.
Perhaps it isn’t practical to leave the Christmas tree in the living room, but how about leaving a little more joy and fellowship in our hearts and homes during the rest of the year?
What if we were kind year round? What if we carried the spirit of Christmas and charity throughout each month, and what if families carry the idea of giving to others as an ongoing and spiritual experience? The spirit of giving doesn’t have to end with Christmas; with our example, we might encourage our children to keep the practice of charity in their hearts.
Margaret Sadoski, director of religious education at Sacred Heart Parish, Horicon, believes it is important to instill in children at an early age the practice of giving.
|House of Peace,
1702 W. Walnut St., Milwaukee, WI 53205; phone: (414) 933-1300,
www.houseofpeacemilwaukee.org Gerri Sheets-Howard,
executive director; email:
Her parish is involved in the local food pantry, “Clothes for Kids” in Beaver Dam, and the local St. Vincent de Paul.
“We also have a Bethesda Thrift Store just down the road where families can drop off used items,” she said. “I feel children need to learn giving at an early age and then it will continue as they grow older, especially if they see their parents doing it.”
At St. Francis Borgia Parish, Cedarburg, Christine Crom integrates volunteer opportunities into her Christian formation programs. As the director of child ministry K4-Grade 5, she encourages volunteers for the summer Vacation Bible School (VBS), using it as a weeklong service project for the children, as well as middle school and high school volunteers.
“Volunteers were encouraged to do chores or work at home to earn money, and the children and youth were encouraged to donate all of their earnings to our service project,” she said. “This year our project was the House of Peace Christmas brunch. The children and youth learned about the HOP (a charitable program in honor of the late Booker T. Ashe) after volunteers did a presentation about it.”
Last year, the VBS project collected books, games and toys for the Cathedral Center, an emergency shelter for women and families. The year before, the VBS program collected funds to purchase playground equipment for the children in their sister parish in Uganda.
“We have also done the Souper Bowl of Caring last Super Bowl weekend after the children learned about the social justice principles of the Catholic church,” explained Crom. “They made posters and families collected loose change into soup pots. All monies were donated to local agencies to feed the hungry, with the largest donation of $1,000 going to Ozaukee Family Sharing.”
Integrating giving with the religious education program makes sense, according to Crom.
“If we remember that, I think that there are some benefits that just happen,” she said. “We usually see how truly blessed we are and how blessed our families are. We usually feel good about tackling a big issue like hunger – but together we can do it.”
Following are some suggestions for carrying your giving and family outreach efforts throughout the year.
The Christ Child Society
Since 1948, the Christ Child Society has provided assistance, support and encouragement to children, regardless of race or creed. One of the initial projects that continues today is the Layette Program, providing new mothers with a handmade quilt or blanket, sweater set, sleep and playwear, undershirts, storybook, a handmade toy and parenting information. According to president Marianne Armour, the Christ Child Society always needs volunteers to join the organization, donate items and funds for the layettes or the My Stuff Bag Program.
“These are bags given to children when they are taken out of a home due to domestic abuse and taken to a shelter,” she said. “The bags are filled with pajamas, toothbrush, comb and a little stuffed animal to comfort these children and help them to know that someone cares. This is a great project for school children or for families who want to help donate money or items for these layettes.”
The society also provides scholarships for high school students, runs the Second Saturday Program for mothers and new babies, provides volunteers for the Ronald McDonald House, and runs the Christ Child Society Resale Shop and Boutique in the Merrick Center, former convent of Our Lady of Good Hope Parish, 4033 W. Good Hope Road. Volunteers are needed to staff the store or to provide donated items.
Store hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and the first and third Saturdays of the month, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For more information on how to help, call (414) 540-0489.
Hope Now Inc.
For those in the Elkhorn community suddenly faced with illness, reduced hours or loss of employment, there is help. The ecumenical, non-profit group, Hope Now Inc., provides emergency help for people suffering loss of income by providing assistance for housing, utilities, transportation, medical needs and holiday baskets.
The program began in 2002, after a group of concerned people from various churches, service groups, schools and county social services met to find a combined method to help those in need in the Elkhorn area.
Representatives of Hope Now Inc. meet with applicants for assistance at St. Patrick School, Elkhorn, every second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. to assess options to best serve those in need.
Three times a year the organization works with schools, churches, service groups and Elkhorn food pantry to provide food baskets to qualified families.
Donations are welcome any time of the year and can be made to Hope Now Inc., Rev. Joyce Rich, Bethel United Methodist Church, W5110 County Road A, Elkhorn, WI 53121.
To find out how to volunteer, contact Rev. Scott McLeod (262) 723-3246, Eleanor Montano (262) 723-4711, or Rev. Rich (262) 742-3507.
St. Vincent de Paul
When it comes to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Fond du Lac, the ability to give is solely dependant on the generosity of others.
According to Jean White, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Holy Family Conference, consisting of members who worship at Sacred Heart, St. Mary, St. Peter, Holy Family sites in Fond du Lac and Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Parish, North Fond du Lac, the need for donations is great after the holidays.
“There are just so many people in need, and we do try to have fundraisers to keep up the funds to fill our pantries and help those who need a hand,” she said. “We have a spring fundraiser, and often the fraternal insurance groups will match our funds and that really helps.”
With the end of the year tax deductions, Thanksgiving and Christmas, people tend to donate toward the end of the year, but food supplies are quickly depleted by spring.
“We would love to see families, schools and churches hold a Lenten offering to help us help others,” said White. “There are different organizations in Fond du Lac that often are recipients of help, but St. Vincent de Paul could really use some help. Nearly every dollar collected goes to help others as we have very low administrative costs because we are run by volunteers.”
To help financially, or through donations, contact: St. Vincent de Paul Society Contributing Member Campaign, 573 W. Rolling Meadows Dr., Fond du Lac, WI 54937, (920) 322-9505.
Operation Rice Bowl (Lent: Feb. 22-April 8, 2012)
Operation Rice Bowl is Catholic Relief Services’ Lenten program that began in 1975 in the Diocese of Allentown, Pa., as an ecumenical response to the drought in the African Sahel. For more than 35 years, CRS’ Operation Rice Bowl has offered Catholics in the United States a way to connect others in need around the world through the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to help families create a quiet space each day where they can be grateful for their blessings and focus on making a difference in the lives of others.
Using the collection of recipes, prayers and stories from countries around the world, families can connect with the idea of fighting hunger by eating a simple, meatless meal once a week.
Placing CRS’ cardboard “rice bowl” on the dinner table helps families think about their brothers and sisters in need.
To help: email@example.com
Catholic Relief Services
Operation Rice Bowl
P.O. Box 17090
Baltimore, MD 21203-7090
Located in Burlington, Love, Inc. is a non-profit organization with more than 40 programs to help families and individuals live better, more productive lives. That dedication takes an active and sustained commitment from the community. Each year, Love Inc. provides more than a half a million dollars in goods and services to those in need.
Founded in 1983 by various community members, Love Inc. is a network of churches and individuals working to identify, assess, and provide for the needs of families and individuals, and to direct them to the appropriate resources.
Volunteers are needed for office work and to help in one of the five thrift stores and warehouse. Donations of clothing, medical supplies, furnishings and furniture are also welcome.
Regular fundraisers include Friday Night Lights to support the food pantry, tree sales, toy runs, post office food drive, Boy Scout food drive, and meals for the needy provided by local churches. As with most organizations, the greatest need is for cash donations not assigned to a particular program.
To help: contact Love Inc., 480 South Pine St., Burlington, WI, 53105. Phone (262) 763-6266.
Women’s Care Center Foundation
An unexpected pregnancy can be a hard thing to face alone. Women’s Care Center can help. Their mission is a simple one – to help pregnant young women choose life for their developing babies, deliver healthy babies, develop parenting skills and take the first steps to self-sufficiency.
Founded by a professor from the University of Notre Dame, Women’s Care Center has grown to become the nation’s largest pregnancy resource center serving more than 100,000 women since its inception. There are 17 locations in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Women’s Care Center Milwaukee opened its doors on June 21, 2010, at 1441 N. Farwell Ave. This is the only pregnancy center in the city of Milwaukee where a pregnant woman can receive a free ultrasound 40 hours a week. Hundreds of women have already come to the site for pregnancy testing, counseling, ultrasounds, prenatal vitamins and other pregnancy support. In addition, new mothers coming to the center can earn cribs, car seats, diapers and new baby clothing by participating in education.
To learn how to help, call (414) 223-2610, or (414) 645-4050, or visit www.wccfoundation.com
Agape Community Meal
During any month that contains a fifth Wednesday, St. William Parish, Waukesha, hosts the Agape Community Meal in Milwaukee. The Agape Center serves those who are poor in the Berryland housing area and its neighborhood. Involvement is easy and includes either going to Agape to help prepare the meal in the afternoon or by serving the meal in the early evening. This service opportunity is ideal for families and youth.
Coordinators for this meal are Jerry and Shirley Stanke and Lonnie Rubis. If you are interested in volunteering for this meal program, call one of the coordinators one week before meal date.
They can be reached: Lonnie Rubis (262) 542-9626 or Jerry and Shirley Stanke (262) 544-0436.
St. Boniface/St. Gabriel Food Pantry Germantown
The St. Boniface/St. Gabriel Food Pantry serves five communities: Germantown, Richfield, Hubertus, Jackson and Colgate. Referrals to the food pantry are made through the Washington County Social Services. The food pantry is located in the St. Boniface Parish Center.
The food pantry appreciates support year round, but is especially in need of assistance during the summer months when children are home from school. The pantry can always use nonperishable goods as well as household and personal items, e.g., laundry detergent, shampoo, toothpaste, etc.
Bring your nonperishable foods and household/personal items to the food pantry within the St. Boniface Parish Center. Items can be placed on the tables outside the door. From Nov. 1 through Jan. 5, items can also be dropped off at the barrels in Pick ‘n Save and Piggly Wiggly.
For more information on how to use the food pantry or to volunteer, contact: Charlene at (262) 628-0420 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sacred Heart Food Pantry, Horicon
The Sacred Heart Food Pantry, located within the parish facility, is in need of nonperishable food, toiletries and personal items. The pantry serves about 53 families from the Iron Ridge, Horicon, Juneau and Burnett communities each month with nonperishable foods. Additionally, each Thanksgiving and Easter, about 40 families receive a special basket of food, and children of these families qualify for Tree of Life gifts at Christmas and Easter gift baskets.
To donate to this ministry, nonperishable foods that are not expired and do not have damaged packaging, can be delivered to the table near the kitchen during parish office hours at 950 Washington St., Horicon.
Volunteers are urgently needed for this ministry. If interested, call (920) 485-0694 for more details.
Elizabeth’s Closet, located on the campus of St. Mary Catholic Church, 7307-40th Ave., Kenosha, is organized by a group of volunteers dedicated to helping families obtain items for their babies and toddlers. Items provided include diapers, wipes, baby wash, clothing, blankets and baby furniture when available. According to organizer Rosa Herman, the group is always in need of items, including baby and toddler clothing.
“There are no requirements for people to come in and pick up items and we generally serve about 20 families per month,” she said. “We always need items, any time of year.”
Those wishing to donate can call the parish (262) 694-6018.
Our Lady of the Lakes, Random Lake
Teresa Mahler, director of religious education at Our Lady of the Lakes, 306 Butler St., Random Lake, understands that families are busy, and while most would like to volunteer, it isn’t easy to set aside the time, so her answer is to include volunteer activities within the religious education program.
“We have a family religious education program that meets at the same time. In October, we all went to the community, raked leaves, washed windows, trimmed trees and picked up garbage,” she said. “It was very popular and all of our families loved it. Families got to know each other and got to know the people they served and felt really good about it. They want to do it again.”
Following the service, Mahler held a prayer service and reflection where families had the opportunity to talk about what it means to be a servant and how it felt to serve other people.
St. Francis Borgia Parish, 1375 Covered Bridge Road, Cedarburg, offers service projects through its regular Christian formation programs on Monday evenings and its regular Wednesday night classes. Each November, each class on Wednesday night in grades one through five at the 4:30 and 6:15 session fill Thanksgiving food boxes for the House of Peace. Each child in a family is asked to bring an item or two to fill the box. Children also make cards or draw pictures and these are put into the box. They decorate the outside of the box with words of encouragement such as: May the Lord bless you on Thanksgiving Day. The Christian formation program has provided this ministry for about three years.