Filling bellies, warming bodies: Holiday charity begins in earnest

By Erik Zygmont
ezygmont@CatholicReview.org

Twitter: @ReviewErik

 
As fall accelerates into winter, and creature comforts start popping up everywhere, so does the general urge to perform works of charity.

The annual Breakfast with St. Nicholas at St. John Regional Catholic School combines both. The Frederick pre-kindergarten-to-grade-8 school invites children and their families to a repast of eggs, sausage, pancakes and baked goods while also collecting toys for the local Toys for Tots drive.

“It’s important to give for the holidays; it’s important to share always,” said Mark Leslie, a member of the school’s Home and School Association, which is sponsoring the breakfast.

“If one of us is suffering, we are all suffering,” he said. “If you’re not working your hardest and being the best you’re able to be, we’re cheated out of seeing that person and your contribution to the greater good.”

The breakfast features a major contributor to the greater good. St. Nicholas – not to be confused with Santa Claus – was a bishop in what is now Turkey and a participant in the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. He defended the young church against heresy.

St. Nicholas will attend the breakfast in fourth-century bishop’s attire and present members of the U.S. Marine Corps with toys collected and children attending with a small gift bag.

The breakfast is not open only to those who pay. The business managers of the nine Frederick-area “feeder parishes” associated with SJRCS are each identifying a family in need to enjoy the breakfast on the Home and School Association, as well some modest gifts.

All leftover food will go to the Frederick Rescue Mission, where it will feed the hungry.

The breakfast, Leslie said, has always had a “philanthropic bent.” Last year, diners brought baby supplies for Care Net Pregnancy Center of Frederick.

The uptick in charitable giving doesn’t always wait until Christmas season.

The charitable organization St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore is helping West Baltimore’s Immaculate Conception and St. Cecilia ensure that those in need have a festive Thanksgiving. Thanks to a $9,000 donation from BJ’s Wholesale Club, 400 families will receive a turkey and all the trimmings.

Antoinette Taylor, chairwoman of St. Vincent de Paul’s parish conference at Immaculate Conception and St. Cecilia, said she drew inspiration as a girl from the lyrics to gospel singer Mahalia Jackson’s “If I Can Help Somebody”:

“If I can help somebody, as I pass along …”

“Every year, that permeated my head,” Taylor said.

It was in there this year as she spoke with Vincentian Brother William Stover, pastoral associate of St. Cecilia and director of outreach at Immaculate Conception, about doing something special for this Thanksgiving. The two settled on a number, but had no idea how to get there.

“I said, ‘Where in the world are we going to get 400 turkeys?’” Taylor remembered. “We put our heads together and started asking companies.”

According to St. Vincent de Paul, there are more than 765 members at 38 parish conferences working with the organization’s Baltimore branch. The conferences help coordinate necessities such as food, rent and utility assistance for those in need.

“We look forward to providing hundreds of families with a Thanksgiving meal this giving season,” said John Schiavone, president and CEO of St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore. “BJ’s is a wonderful community partner to both St. Vincent de Paul and our parish conferences.”

In addition to feeding the hungry, parishes and organizations are performing other corporal works of mercy.

St. Athanasius in Curtis Bay collected more than 125 winter coats, which it distributed to locals in need Nov. 12-13.

Mary Beth Barnes, pastoral associate and director of religious education for St. Athanasius, said the coats supplement the Thanksgiving turkeys the parish has traditionally distributed.

“This is one of the events of our 125th anniversary,” she said. “The idea was that we could help our own community here in the Curtis Bay and Brooklyn area,” she said.

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