The Nicaragua Project has been a summer staple at St. Patrick’s Parish in Seneca Falls and St. Mary’s Parish in Waterloo for the past 13 years. It has grown steadily each year, but this summer was the project’s most successful one yet, volunteers said.
The project is run each summer in conjunction with a similar mission project at Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Elmira. Through these projects, members of the parishes and the surrounding communities donate used clothing, shoes, household items and nonperishable food to the needy in Nicaragua. Ann Marie Zon, a lay volunteer missionary from the Buffalo area, spends nine months of each year working in Boaco, Nicaragua. When she returns to western New York each year, she picks up the goods the parishes have collected and brings them back to Nicaragua to distribute to the needy she lives with.
Donations are collected during the summer in Waterloo and Seneca Falls, and this year volunteers packed nearly 1,000 boxes of goods in addition to larger objects, such as bicycles, that wouldn’t fit into boxes, said Jeanne Stebbins, co-chair of the St. Mary’s/St. Patrick’s Joint Social Ministry Committee. Last year the parishes only collected enough goods to fill approximately 850 boxes, she added.
“Our goal for next year is going to be 1,000 boxes and however many additional pieces we get,” Stebbins said.
Goods and supplies are collected throughout the entire year at Ss. Peter and Paul, said Judy Butler, business manager and bookkeeper at the parish. This year, volunteers packed all the donated clothing, pots and pans into 625 boxes to be shipped to Nicaragua, she said. Many people also donated canned goods, can openers and medical supplies, such as walkers, she said.
Volunteers from St. Patrick’s and St. Mary’s also packed a lot of walkers, crutches and even wheelchairs, and Zon’s tractor-trailer truck pulled away with more than 20,650 pounds of clothing and supplies, said Mary Grace, co-chair of the joint social-ministry committee.
“You could not cram a flea into that trailer,” she said.
Up until this year, the program had been run by St. Patrick’s parishioners Philip and Florence Liberatore. When they retired from the project, the social-ministry committee took over and split up the major responsibilities involved, Stebbins said.
“We kind of broke it down so that no one had full responsibility for the project, but everyone had a little responsibility,” Stebbins said.
The social-ministry committee also made several other changes to the way the project is run, and Stebbins thinks these changes account for the project’s success this summer. Instead of just advertising the project in parish bulletins at St. Patrick’s and St. Mary’s, Stebbins looked through the phone book and wrote down the addresses of all the faith communities she could find in or near Seneca County, whether they were Catholic or not. She then sent a letter to each community describing the project, asking for support and explaining where the drop-off shed was located.
“I think that must have worked. Every time we went to the shed it was full. The generosity is just overwhelming,” Stebbins said.
In previous years, the shed was only unloaded once a week, but this year volunteers found themselves unloading it two or three times a week just to keep up with the flow of donations, Grace said. Once donations left the shed, they were brought to the former St. Mary’s School. Sister of Mercy Kathleen O’Connell, pastoral administrator at St. Mary’s, had graciously allowed the committee to use the building as a packing and storage site, Grace said.
Students at St. John Bosco School — the school recently formed from the merger of St. Patrick’s and St. Mary’s schools — has a different uniform requirement than its predecessors, so many parents donated their children’s old school uniforms, Grace said. Several teachers also donated clothing and school supplies left behind at the end of the 2004-05 school year, she added.
The committee members also called in extra volunteers to help load Zon’s trailer when she arrived at the school Aug. 27. Thirteen members of the freshman class at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva did some of the work as part of the service component of their new-student orientation, and at least 30 members of Mynderse Academy boys’ varsity and junior-varsity soccer teams helped out as well.
“My son happens to be on the Mynderse soccer team and I approached his coach about getting some boys to volunteer to load the container,” said Linda McCully, one of the project volunteers, noting that the coach usually encourages his teams to become involved in community service.
St. Patrick’s parishioner Carl Sassano, who has become known by his fellow volunteers as “the box guy,” has been helping with the Nicaragua Project since it began. He spends most Saturday mornings in the summer putting together the cardboard boxes which will eventually hold the donated goods. He and other volunteers look forward to this project each year because they know it’s so worthwhile, he said. And while all the volunteers are hard workers, they have fun while they pack.
“It’s not all work. It’s a lot of laughs, too,” he said.
“We definitely will continue next summer,” Grace added. “We’ve got it down to a science.”