Did you ever perform service projects without meeting the beneficiaries, then wonder if your efforts ever paid off?
Barbara Matterazzo said a bit of that doubt lingered among grade 7-8 religious-education students at Horseheads’ Church of St. Mary Our Mother, following their quilt-making project for the homeless this winter. So she decided to provide some direct proof – journeying all the way to Boston to do so.
In mid-February, Matterazzo hand-delivered quilts to homeless people she had never met. She took photos of the men holding the quilts, then shared the pictures and her experiences with St. Mary Our Mother students during their March 7 meeting.
“I went there (to Boston) because I wanted to put a name to faces for kids – show them that indeed these people really do exist, and really need our help,” said Matterazzo, the parish’s faith-formation administrator.
Matterazzo -who has family in Boston -said she learned through her brother-in-law about an alley where homeless people live in Cambridge, a city adjacent to Boston. Assured that the men weren’t violent, Matterazzo visited the alley on a cold afternoon with her brother-in-law, and quickly found some appreciative recipients for the quilts.
“This one guy was in tears. He said ‘You don’t know how much I appreciate this because tonight it’s supposed to be 10 below zero,'” Matterazzo recalled. “There was another one who covered his face; he thought we were police officers. Then, after 10 or 15 minutes, he started witnessing to me about how important Jesus Christ is in his life.”
Matterazzo said she learned that the men occasionally eat, shower and shave at homeless shelters, but they mostly prefer living in huts near the alley. Alcohol abuse appeared to be commonplace, she added. Even so, “They were very sincere, very real people. They kept talking about each other, the relationship they had, how they depended on each other for survival. They didn’t say anything negative – nothing about my brother-in-law and I standing there in our nice warm jackets -that humbled me.”
Kaitlin Joensen, who assisted on the quilt project, said the men’s appreciation was evident from the photos.
“They seemed kind of happy. I think they were all really grateful they got the gifts,” said Kaitlin,13, a seventh-grader.
The quilt effort began through a friend of Matterazzo’s, JoAnn Sabatura, who lives in the Diocese of Scranton, Pa. Sabatura is involved in My Brother’s Keeper – also known as Ugly Quilt Project – that was begun by another Pennsylvania woman, Flo Wheatley, and has evolved into a national movement. The effort engages groups in making quilts out of clothes and fabrics that would otherwise be discarded, and then networking the quilts to people in need.
Sabatura explained the project to St. Mary Our Mother’s grade 7-8 youths in December. Those 43 religious-education students then made four quilts over the next two months, supplying all their own materials.
Kaitlin said she enjoyed being of service, stating that the quilt project “made me feel happy; it made me feel good about myself.”
“I learned you don’t have to do a lot to make somebody happy,” added Samantha Erlandson, 14, an eighth-grader. She added that being homeless “would be hard, especially when it’s really cold, like this winter.”
Deepening the students’ consciousness is exactly what Matterazzo said she had hoped to accomplish.
“It’s important for the kids to stop and think,” Matterazzo remarked. “People who are homeless, poor, sick – Jesus called us to take care of these kinds of people.”