ROCHESTER — "Did you know this (July) is National Ice Cream Month? Didn’t we pick a good time for this?" Billie Warner asked Elias, a young boy from Tanzania.
Elias nodded as he eagerly observed preparations for an ice cream social on the front lawn of Mary’s Place. Moments later, when a hefty supply of ice cream and cookies was ready to be served by Warner and other volunteers from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Hamlin, Elias and numerous other children pressed up against the long table to receive their treats.
While the kids enjoyed themselves, several other volunteers carried two truckloads’ worth of household items — all donated by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioners — into Mary’s Place, a ministry at 414 Lexington Ave. that provides various means of support to refugees. Among the goods were microwave ovens, a sewing machine, bath towels, a set of silverware, clothing, furniture, blankets, pillows, cookware, a radio and jewelry.
These goodwill efforts, which took place the afternoon of July 19, served as a focal point for the annual Mission Week at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, a parish in the northwest corner of Monroe County. Other activities during the week included parishioners dropping off their household donations at church the weekend of July 16-17; a four-day vacation Bible school-type "kids’ mission" July 18-21; the parish’s annual outdoor Mass and picnic at Hamlin Beach State Park on the evening of July 21; an adult retreat based upon St. Mary Magdalene, held on her feast day of July 22; and a visit by members of the Little Sisters of the Poor at weekend Masses July 23-24. A native St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner, Gracie Adams — now Sister Mary Gerard — is a novice with the order.
Warner, who serves as the parish’s Christian-formation coordinator, said the relationship between her church and Mary’s Place was launched with last year’s Mission Week, when the parish provided clothing and a dinner for the city ministry. Lisa O’Brien, Seton’s recently retired youth minister, noted that young parishioners learned more about Mary’s Place last fall by participating in Camp-out to Help the Homeless — an event designed to enhance awareness of, and raise funds for, local folks who struggle to find suitable housing. More recently, on the weekend of Pentecost May 14-15, a video was shown at church about the work of Mary’s Place while parishioners baked and auctioned off "Pentecost Cupcakes" to raise funds for the refugees.
Mary’s Place, which opened in 2009 as a ministry of the Cathedral Community, is located in the former Holy Rosary Church. In addition to providing food, clothing and other living necessities, Mary’s Place provides such services for refugees as English-language classes, preschool, case management, citizenship assistance, homework help, college preparation, community dinners and job training.
Warner commented that Hamlin parishioners’ efforts to aid Mary’s Place during Mission Week were packed with enthusiasm — from the large donation of household items, to the people who donated ice cream and made cookies for July 19 event, to those who volunteered to make the day a success.
"It’s a great parish," Meg Burkhard, executive director of Mary’s Place, remarked about St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s efforts to support the ministry.
Burkhard said that the nonprofit refugee center is highly appreciative of the help, as it serves 700 families per year from as many as 12 different countries, and many of the families come from places ravaged by war.
Warner said that children in particular, such as those in the summer-education program at Mary’s Place who attended the ice cream social, inspire St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioners to lend their support. She noted that some youngsters partaking in the treats were so unfamiliar with the English language that they said "white" if they wanted vanilla flavor and "brown" for chocolate, or simply pointed at the ice cream, toppings or cookies. Other youths, meanwhile, had never before bitten into a cone.
"They really get our hearts. They come from so far away, with virtually nothing," Warner said.