Parishes and ministries provide food and gifts to thousands of city families at Christmastime with help from other local parishes as well as grants that are partially funded by the annual Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal.
The Christmas Appeal raises money for the emergency funds of various Catholic Charities offices and other affiliated agencies throughout the Diocese of Rochester.
The 2017-18 appeal, which has a goal of $45,000, began at Thanksgiving and runs through February.
Proceeds from the appeal and Operation Rice Bowl fund Hunger Relief Grants are distributed to Monroe County parishes and ministries each year. Many of the grant recipients use the funds to help needy families at Christmas.
For example, for several years, the House of Mercy and a group of Xerox Corp. employees have undertaken “Operation Food Baskets,” explained Kelly Finnigan, director of operations at the Rochester homeless shelter. The project used the $1,000 Hunger Relief Grant that the shelter received to purchase food for the baskets, he said.
Families begin signing up in September to receive the baskets, and Xerox employees deliver them, Finnigan explained. For anyone they cannot reach, the House of Mercy volunteers follow up and deliver the baskets at a later date, he said.
Holy Apostles Parish uses its $1,000 grant for an annual holiday giveaway, setting up the church like a department store so parents can “shop” for their children, explained Betsy MacKinnon, a parishioner and volunteer.
“We believe in the dignity of each person and all life,” she said. “This (project) is one way we can assure people that dignity as they have the option to choose the gifts for their children.”
The parents who come in know best which color garment a child might like or what toy, she said, and are very conscientious about their selections.
After they choose gifts, they walk over to the back of the rectory to receive large food baskets, MacKinnon added.
The baskets are packed with many extra items to help families whose children normally receive free school breakfasts and lunches, she said, so they can make it through the days off from school during the holidays.
In the eight years she has overseen the service project, the parish has nearly doubled the number of neighborhood families it serves from 60 to 100, she said. In addition to the grant, the church receives donations for the project from St. John of Rochester in Fairport and St. Charles Borromeo and St. John the Evangelist churches in Greece.
“We have tremendous needs,” MacKinnon said. “We are grateful to all the people who help us with gifts and money for food.”
Several parishes and a $3,000 Hunger Relief Grant split up among its ministries also help St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish serve families in its neighborhoods, said Priscilla DeJesús, a pastoral associate, and Sister of Mercy Julia Norton, director of the Sister Regis Food Cupboard.
For example, DeJesús said she used the bulk of the $600 allotted for Our Lady of the Americas Church to help 85 families from the OLOA and St. Michael Church area who did not receive any other assistance with Thanksgiving. Anything leftover was used to help families at Christmas, including providing turkeys and other food, she added.
For those Christmas baskets, DeJesús said the parish received donations of gifts from Holy Trinity Church in Webster and St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish in Irondequoit.
This year, Our Lady of the Americas helped an additional 25 families from Puerto Rico with food and gifts for Christmas, she noted.
“I feel good about being able to help these people,” DeJesús said. “They are very happy to receive the help.”
Sister Norton said she was seeing about four to five families from Puerto Rico every day in December at the food cupboard. She said several parish volunteers led by Natalie Medero prepared 115 baskets for families and the food cupboard’s Hunger Relief Grant allotment to buy gift cards to local supermarkets.
Several parishes also provide gifts and food for the Christmas baskets, she said: St. Joseph Church in Penfield, Church of the Transfiguration in Pittsford, St. John of Rochester, St. Paul Church in Webster, St. Thomas More Church in Brighton and Holy Trinity Church
Another city ministry that has been operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph for 33 years, St. Martin’s Place, celebrated its final Christmas brunch on Dec. 22 with its $600 grant, said Sister Clare Ehmann.