The rippling effects of generosity

Written by Mary McCusker

“I’m really worried about Thanksgiving and Christmas. It will be hard this year.”

It’s what Marie Jones (not her real name) said a week before Thanksgiving. The 20-year-old client of Catholic Charities, wasn’t worrying about herself.

“I have four younger siblings. And I have custody of them. Our mother passed away suddenly this year from cancer, so it’s our first year without her. I don’t know how they’re going to handle the holidays.”

A Catholic Charities client poses with her baby and Santa Claus at a Christmas party for the agency’s clients. This was one out of several events organized by Catholic Charities staff which aimed to bring the joy of the holiday season to those who struggle to make ends meet. Photo by Mary McCusker

Jones took on a world of responsibility after her mother died, working extra hours to provide for her younger siblings and to help pay off funeral costs of her now-deceased mother. She had reached out to Catholic Charities to find grief counseling for her brothers and sisters, knowing that they were struggling to process the loss. The help that Marie and her family received went well beyond her initial request.

Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Camden is often a touchstone for those in the community with a generous spirit, particularly around the holidays. They trust the organization and its ability to minister to those who are truly “the poorest of the poor” in South Jersey.

So when Jim Livengood of Blackwood reached out to Catholic Charities, offering to donate a Thanksgiving dinner to a needy family, Marie Jones and her siblings were a natural choice.

Though the young woman was initially hesitant to accept the meal which included a ham, side dishes, desserts and other items, after accepting the gift she said, “I can’t explain how much that meant to us. I knew it was going to be hard without our mother this year, but [my siblings] loved helping prepare the meal, and especially helping to bake the cookies. It brought so much joy into our house and I couldn’t be more thankful. I thought I would only be able to afford a chicken for Thanksgiving dinner!” she laughed.

When word spread to Mater Ecclesiae in Berlin of a family struggling to cope with the loss of their mother, and the valiant efforts of the oldest daughter — barely an adult herself — to keep her four siblings together, the church quickly added Marie’s family to its Christmas Giving Tree and provided a myriad of beautifully wrapped presents for all of the family members to be delivered by Christmas.

Marie Jones is just one of many who struggle during the holiday season. For those who are barely able to make ends meet, their concerns are geared toward more basic and immediate needs for their families: putting food on the table, finding a place to sleep out of the cold, avoiding eviction. Giving and receiving presents, decorating a Christmas tree and preparing a Christmas feast are the last things on their minds during “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Yet, through these challenging times, Catholic Charities works to bring dignity and joy to the thousands of clients the agency serves annually.

This year, Samantha Astley, the agency’s volunteer coordinator, mobilized a group of staff and volunteers to host a Christmas party for clients, where families could come in to the decorated office, get a family picture taken with Santa, pick up some food to bring home, and help themselves to some warm donated winter clothing and other items.

On Dec. 17, Astley also organized a toy giveaway for Catholic Charities clients, offering parents a chance to come in and pick out some toys for their children, items donated by parishes, volunteer groups, friends and staff of the agency. Thirty-six families (91 children) were served.

Noted Kevin Hickey, executive director of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden, “Helping those in need often has incredible ripple effects. We see the generous people of South Jersey as partners in our mission. We are grateful for their multiplying good will on behalf of the clients we serve.”

Added Astley, “The spirit of Christmas is alive and well, and that spirit fills our clients with great hope and joy as they face their challenges in the new year.”