Whenever a tree is uprooted, great care must be taken to ensure continued growth after it’s replanted.
That basic arboricultural wisdom has certainly been heeded at St. Ann Church in Hornell, where an Advent giving-tree project provides annual holiday support for area residents in need.
The initiative began in the late 1980s at the former St. Ignatius Loyola Church, also in Hornell. Mary Bossard, who has served as coordinator from the beginning, said it was moved to St. Ann in 2004 after St. Ignatius held its final Sunday Mass earlier that year. Bossard said the tradition was already well-known to St. Ann, noting that parishioners would bring donated items over to St. Ignatius for its Advent tree.
Even so, Bossard admitted that "I was really nervous about how it was going to work" when the tree changed locations, since St. Ann would be hosting something that had been established elsewhere.
Not to worry: "It’s just been very successful. There are very few years where we haven’t collected more than the year before," she said.
The project features a different theme for each week of Advent. On the first Sunday, parishioners leave gifts under the tree for children ages infant to 5. Week two’s focus is on older children and teens; week three, adult men and women; and week four (Dec. 19), monetary donations.
Bossard noted that these efforts make Our Lady of the Valley Parish — to which St. Ann belongs — the main source for holiday outreach efforts by Steuben County Rural Ministry. The ministry, which is housed in the former St. Joachim Church in Canisteo, provides Christmas dinner plus a gift for each family member to underprivileged area residents.
"She’s got 150 families," Bossard said of Sister Susan Cain, RSM, the rural ministry’s director.
Bossard observed that many adult gifts are basic necessities — shirts, underwear, shaving cream, towels, scarves, hats, socks and gloves are among the most popular items. For teens and younger children, the emphasis expands to board games, card games, toys and stuffed animals as well.
"We want them to get something fun," Bossard said.
She added that parish response for all age groups has been tremendous in 2010, noting that when Sister Cain’s car was loaded up after the final Mass on Dec. 12 "it was practically overflowing" with gifts for adults.
Bossard acknowledged that the Hornell area has been hit hard by tough economic times, and the number of struggling families seems to always be rising: "It’s a tremendous need." She praised the St. Ann community for addressing that need — not only by donating items but also helping load Sister Cain’s car each weekend of Advent.
"People have been tremendous in their response. It’s been great," Bossard said.
She said she’s remained involved with the Advent project all these years because "you just get the best feeling when you know you’re helping someone." However, she said the real credit should go to the parishioners for taking part — and to Sister Cain for making sure the donations get into the right hands.
"She just does the best job for Steuben and the surrounding communities. I’m just a helping hand," Bossard remarked.