In late November, while other children may have been excitedly contemplating what they would find underneath the tree on Christmas morning, students in the religious-education program for three local parishes were busily preparing to play Santa for a group of orphans in El Salvador.
Children in the kindergarten through fifth-grade levels of the religious-education program for St. Gregory Parish in Marion, St. Anne Parish in Palmyra and St. Patrick Parish in Macedon recently collected toys, backpacks, sports equipment and school supplies for the children in Centro Escolar Caserio, an orphanage and school in San Salvador, the nation’s capital.
“It was a real nice effort on the part of the kids. It was such a variety of things,” said Elaine Doyle, director of religious education for the three parishes.
The children brought in many new items, and also brought in some barely used toys and sports equipment from their own collections, said Doyle, adding that she was touched by their generosity and concern for children they’d never met.
“They knew where it was going and that it was to help other kids,” she said.
Doyle hoped the project would not only help orphans in El Salvador, but also help children in Marion, Palmyra and Macedon learn the importance of reaching out and helping others beyond their own small communities.
The students’ project was part of a larger effort coordinated locally by June Wood, a Macedon woman whose son, Bruce, is an aviation-warfare systems operator with the Sea Operations Detachment out of Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Jacksonville, Fla. Bruce is currently stationed in San Salvador, where members of his unit are routinely sent to run a command and control center used in the war on drugs, he said.
While in San Salvador, members of Bruce’s unit also individually take part in the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program, providing toys, sports equipment and school supplies for the children at the orphanage and school. Although his unit is not involved with either the Toys for Tots program or Centro Escolar Caserio on an official basis, it has become customary for members of the unit to pack these toys and other items in with their own luggage each time they travel to El Salvador.
This year, they had planned to distribute the items during a party at the orphanage on Christmas Day, Bruce said.
On Dec. 11 Bruce left Florida for his seventh or eighth trip to El Salvador, and he expected to be stationed there for six weeks. Since it would be his first Christmas in San Salvador, he asked his mother to help him collect toys and other items to give to the children at the Christmas party.
June took her son’s request seriously and solicited assistance from churches, schools and businesses in Macedon and the surrounding areas.
“She’s really put her foot to the throttle, and it’s amazing what she’s gotten,” Bruce told the Catholic Courier before he left for El Salvador.
“I’ve got tons coming in. It just has mushroomed. It’s great that so many people are coming through like that. My dining room looks like a warehouse,” June agreed, referring to the boxes of donated items that were stacked in her house in early December.
Several people had given her monetary donations, and she planned to use that money to ship the boxes to Bruce in Jacksonville so he could bring them to El Salvador.
El Salvador doesn’t have a middle class by American standards, Bruce said, and San Salvador is home to many extremely needy people, including children. Schools are few and far between there, and the families who do send their children to school struggle to obtain adequate materials for them.
“It’s not unusual for two children to share a uniform,” Bruce said, noting that often one child will wear a uniform to the morning lessons, then go home and give the uniform to another sibling for the afternoon session.
Many American children wouldn’t be especially pleased to find a school uniform under the Christmas tree, but the children at the orphanage are extremely grateful for even the smallest or seemingly insignificant gifts.
“I have two children of my own, and we live in the Nintendo age. You go back down there and it kind of puts your sanity in check when you kind of see even the simple things brighten a child’s eyes,” he said.
Most of the people he’s encountered in El Salvador have been extremely friendly, so his service in that nation has been one of the highlights of Bruce’s military career, he said. Although he knew it would be hard to be away from his wife and children at Christmas, he hoped that sadness would be countered by the joy he knew the orphans would experience during the Christmas party.
“We’re away from our families at Christmas, and (the orphans’ happiness) kind of makes our day, too,” Bruce said.