Catholic volunteers embrace opportunities to spread holiday cheer
Carving out volunteer time during the busy holiday season — particularly on Christmas Day — can be a daunting task.
Yet people like Mary Kay Brown, Adelaide Goldman and Anne Hudson don’t view such efforts as sacrifices; rather, they embrace the opportunity to extend holiday cheer to folks who need it the most.
Brown, for one, is looking forward to her annual role as coordinator of the Christmas Day dinner at Elmira Community Kitchen. She’ll spend a good chunk of her holiday overseeing approximately 40 volunteers during a pair of three-hour shifts. They will prepare and serve a free, full holiday dinner from 2 to 3 p.m. for local residents who can’t afford their own meals, or have nobody with whom to share them — or both.
“I don’t know what they’d do without the kitchen. Where would they go, I think?” said Brown, a member of Elmira’s Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish.
Meanwhile, Goldman will spend a portion of Christmas Day distributing the Eucharist to residents of St. Ann’s Home in Rochester who may not otherwise get the opportunity to receive the sacrament.
“They can’t all get down (to the chapel) to Mass,” explained Goldman, a member of Irondequoit’s St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish.
And in Wayne County, the Sodus Community Christmas Sharing program — an effort spanning several months — will reach its pinnacle four days before Christmas at the Church of the Epiphany parish center. There, hundreds of donated meals and gifts will be distributed to area families.
“For some, this is the only Christmas they have. They have nothing else,” said Hudson, a parishioner of St. Maximilian Kolbe, of which Church of the Epiphany is a part.
Hudson serves as coordinator of the Christmas Sharing initiative, which is supported by numerous church and civic groups through volunteerism and donations of cash and goods.
“It involves the whole community in one way or another,” she said.
More than 150 families and 300 children benefit from the annual effort. Hudson noted that because it is so large, organizers begin meeting in the spring. Over the next several months, they identify and locate families in need, buy nonperishable food items and shop for requested gifts.
On Dec. 10, Hudson said, a big gift-wrapping effort will begin at the parish center, with volunteers coming in every morning. During the distribution on Dec. 21, recipients will take home their gifts along with groceries for a nice holiday meal and household supplies.
In contrast to the bustling activity in Sodus, Goldman’s Christmas efforts at St. Ann’s Home take on a more intimate tone. In addition to distributing the Eucharist on the holiday, she visits with residents in need of some company.
“We stay there for a little while. They like to see a friendly face, even if it’s for just a few minutes. Some don’t get any visitors at all,” remarked Goldman, a longtime St. Ann’s volunteer.
Goldman makes similar visits to the nursing facility on Thanksgiving and New Year’s days, accompanied by her husband, Steve — who, she noted, is Jewish. Yet she said they don’t seek special recognition for their holiday volunteerism.
“I don’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary. We’re happy to do it. It’s not taking a big part of our day,” she said. “It’s a good feeling, a nice feeling to know that my people on the first, second and third floors (of St. Ann’s Home) had Communion on the holidays.”
Another volunteer for multiple holidays is Brown in Elmira, who coordinates meals at the community kitchen on Thanksgiving and Easter as well as Christmas.
“It’s important to me,” she said. “On holidays you want to give back. What’s a better time than Christmas, or any other holiday?”
She noted that she’s far from alone in her efforts, lauding Kathy Dubel, the kitchen’s director; Mary Churchill, another coordinator; and many more for making the holiday dinners possible.
“You couldn’t do anything like this without the volunteers,” she said.
Brown said that the Christmas dinners average around 100 patrons who are served at their tables in a festively decorated, family-like atmosphere.
“It’s a wonderful time for them,” she said, adding that she and the other volunteers fully enjoy the experience as well.
“I love it,” she stated. “Everybody is so joyful. You know, it’s just a beautiful thing.”