• Faith-formation students Dylan Wilder (from left), Celia Mattie, Aiden Tardif and Ryan Gilbert decorate a giving tree at Auburn's Holy Family Church in this November 2013 photo.

Parish collections deliver Christmas cheer

By Jennifer Ficcaglia/Catholic Courier    |    11.13.2015
Category: Advent


Parishes around the Diocese of Rochester are preparing to put smiles on the faces of people who might otherwise find little to be merry about this Christmas.

In late November or early December, diocesan parishes erect Christmas trees adorned with tags, which contain gift requests for needy people who may not be able to afford even the simplest of Christmas presents. Parishioners then choose one or more tags from the trees -- called "giving trees" or "angel trees" -- and shop for the requested items, returning them to their parishes in time for Christmas delivery.

Photo courtesy of Amy Fernaays

Church of the Assumption Pastoral Minister Amy Fernaays (from left) and parishioners Jan Merchant and Mary Ellen Danehy prepare to distribute the Fairport parish's giving-tree gifts in December 2014.

Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community in the Finger Lakes conducts giving-tree collections at three of its worship sites -- St. Michael in Penn Yan, St. Januarius in Naples and St. Patrick in Prattsburgh. Gifts are delivered to several area organizations, including Care Net Pregnancy Center locations in Penn Yan and Canandaigua, and an assisted-living center and a senior citizen agency in Penn Yan, according to information from OLOL's social-ministry committee. In Naples and Prattsburgh, local families in need also receive presents, and in past years, migrant families and Meals on Wheels recipients in those communities have as well.

"People are just so happy and so amazed to get them," social-ministry committee member Peggy Ruscio said of gifts provided by giving-tree donors.

In Fairport, Church of the Assumption's giving-tree collection annually tops 800 gifts, which benefit clients of several community organizations as well as local families in need, according to Pastoral Minister Amy Fernaays.

Photo courtesy of Jane Judge Bonassar

Maggie (left) and Lizzie Bonassar look at the cards on one of the three giving trees that were erected Nov. 15 at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Ithaca.

The gifts collected at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Ithaca are provided to nursing homes, a disability-service organization and Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga, noted Jane Judge Bonassar, the parish's communications coordinator.

"Many people in our area struggle throughout the year to provide for basic needs, and Christmas gifts are not always a possibility once their difficult choices are made," noted an early November bulletin article about the collection. "The Giving Tree has been a way to help bring some of the joy of the season to those around us."

The Angel Giving Tree project at Auburn's Holy Family Church has been spreading joy for many years and benefits the Cayuga County Christmas Elf project of the Cayuga Seneca Community Action Agency. Youth group members assemble the tags for the tree, which is then decorated by sixth-grade faith-formation students, said Faith Formation Coordinator Nancy Smith, who oversees the project.

"It makes them feel like Santa Claus," she told the Catholic Courier in 2013 in regard to giving-tree participants. "The people are so happy to do it."


Contains reporting by Mike Latona.

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