Catholics mark their good fortune by helping others
Each Thanksgiving morning, Carol Schoen and her daughter, Sarah Zedick, faithfully arrive at St. Peter’s Kitchen, ready to serve a warm Thanksgiving meal to the needy of Rochester. This tradition began six years ago, when Schoen and Zedick were looking for a new way to celebrate the holiday.
“We tried a couple other places, and St. Peter’s just felt right; it just felt good,” Schoen said.
Schoen and Zedick don’t consider it a sacrifice to spend a portion of their day serving others.
“It’s like the old saying, ‘You get more than you give.’ There are certain things I will never forget,” Schoen said.
One memory relates to a couple with several children who came to the kitchen for a Thanksgiving meal. Bottled water had been placed at each table, and one of the children reached out to take a bottle. When the child’s father told him not to touch the bottle, Schoen was at first touched, thinking that the father wanted his child to drink something more nutritious than water, such as juice or milk. When the father packed up the water bottles and took them home after the meal, she realized he wanted to save them for later use.
“All the sudden it just smacks you with reality. There’s some really tough situations right here in Rochester; you don’t have to go to another country to help others,” Schoen said. “You just come away with such a dose of reality and how very, very fortunate we are. We are so, so lucky, and we don’t even know it.”
Schoen and Zedick are just two of many people who volunteer at St. Peter’s Kitchen around Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to Patricia Lorenzen, director. St. Peter’s Kitchen is fortunate in that it has about 170 regular volunteers that work at the kitchen all year long, she said.
So many people volunteer around the holidays that none of the regular volunteers has to work there on Thanksgiving, Lorenzen added. While she can’t identify one particular reason for the increased number of volunteers at the holidays, she thinks it has something to do with the spirit of thanksgiving present at that time of the year.
“There are probably as many reasons for people wanting to volunteer as there are volunteers. I think many people do it because they feel very blessed and they want to be able to give back in some way,” Lorenzen said.
The holidays do tend to help people realize how fortunate they are, which often inspires a desire to give something back to the community, said Father Lance Gonyo, pastor of Church of the Epiphany in Sodus and its mission church, St. Rose of Lima in Sodus Point. Thanksgiving especially is a time for people to remember the blessings of family, friends and good health. Even the ability to live in a First-World nation is a blessing many take for granted, he added.
“I think we’ve been blessed in just so many ways. The stresses of life sometimes overwhelm us, and we begin to forget how fortunate we are,” Father Gonyo said. “(Volunteering) helps us to be more in tune with those that are in need in our community, and to realize that not everyone has the material blessings that we do.”
Starting around Thanksgiving each year, members of both of his parishes volunteer by collecting goods to use in Christmas baskets for the needy in the Sodus community. Each basket includes a turkey — donated by a local business — and enough food for one meal, as well as a small gift for each child in the family. Between the two parishes, 135 baskets were assembled last year and donated to local families, he said.
Children enrolled in the faith-formation program at St. Vincent DePaul Parish in Churchville are encouraged to participate in service projects throughout the entire year, said Kathy Kuntz, the parish’s faith-formation coordinator. In October, the children participated in Project Hats from Home, collecting baseball caps to send to members of the military serving overseas as a symbol of thanks for their service.
At Thanksgiving and Christmas, the children create cards to send to those serving overseas and to the homebound in their own community, she added. The goal of all of these projects is to help the children see the world beyond their own families and homes, to help them be thankful for what they have and to share their blessings with others, Kuntz said.
Children attending faith-formation classes in Elmira’s St. Anthony/St. Patrick cluster also take part in holiday service projects. Each year around Thanksgiving, the children take part in Operation Christmas Child, said Rose Bennett, the cluster’s religious-education coordinator.
For this project, children in preschool through sixth grade bring in pencils, lollipops, coloring books, crayons and other small items children enjoy, as well as hygiene items. Junior-high faith-formation students pack the items into shoe boxes, which are then sent to children in need around the world. The students like knowing that they’re helping other children who don’t have as much as they do, Bennett said.
Students at All Saints Catholic Academy in Gates hold a food drive each autumn, collecting food for local food cupboards in preparation for Thanksgiving. At Immaculate Conception School in Ithaca, the school’s Home-School Association puts on an annual Thanksgiving Feast. Admission to the event is a nonperishable food item to be donated to the needy.
Similarly, when the Thanksgiving Mass collection is taken up at Rochester’s Ss. Peter and Paul Parish, instead of money parishioners contribute nonperishable food items or paper products for their emergency food pantry.
“Really, we’re a very poor parish, and we really don’t have a lot of opportunities to contribute to something other than our own needs. It is an occasion that we can all offer thanks for what we have, as a parish,” said Sister of St. Joseph Patricia Flass, pastoral associate.
Attending a Mass on Thanksgiving is by itself an important part of the holiday for many people, Father Gonyo noted. This year, his parishes will celebrate a Thanksgiving Mass with St. Mary of the Lake Parish in Ontario.
“A lot of people like to attend Mass because it starts the day with prayer and is a way of connecting with the day,” Father Gonyo said.