Rochester parish spreads Christmas cheer with food, toys - Catholic Courier
Volunteers sort donated goods at Rochester's Peace of Christ Parish Dec. 12, 2015, as part of the church's annual Christmas basket and toy drive. Volunteers sort donated goods at Rochester's Peace of Christ Parish Dec. 12, 2015, as part of the church's annual Christmas basket and toy drive. (Courier file photo)

Rochester parish spreads Christmas cheer with food, toys

Students at St. Ambrose Academy in Rochester will enjoy a nicer holiday season, thanks to the charitable efforts of parishioners from Peace of Christ Parish, who will provide gifts to every student at the school.

Although the parish normally distributes Christmas baskets and toys to those in need in the community, this year, items collected will go to those in need within the parish, said Karen Francati, who works on Peace of Christ’s donation committee.

In the past, the Christmas baskets were distributed to 65 families that were referred to the parish by such local agencies as The Community Place.

Due to the pandemic, last year’s basket initiative was canceled, and this year’s distribution will look a little different because of ongoing COVID-19 concerns and restrictions, Francati told the Catholic Courier Nov. 5.

According to Francati, the way the holiday effort works is that parishioners are asked to bring in different kinds of food items each week for a period of five to six weeks. During week one, which began Nov. 6, she said parishioners were asked to bring in hand soap, laundry detergent and dish soap. The next week, canned fruit and vegetables were collected. The last week of collection was to be Dec. 4 with donations of cereal, peanut butter, jelly and coffee.

“This year, we’ll be serving 45 families,” Francati said, explaining that 10 baskets are reserved for parishioners who were nominated by other parishioners, and 35 baskets will go to the families of St. Ambrose students.

Each year, local Scout troops help with what is typically called “Delivery Day,” said Francati. Instead of delivering baskets to families’ homes this year, however, Scouts will instead bring baskets to the cars of families who drive to pick them up at St. Ambrose Church, which is a Peace of Christ worship site.

“It’s really quite amazing. We have a couple of rooms downstairs in the parish office, and the one room looks like a Wegmans, I mean, it’s just overflowing with food,” said Francati of the already collected donations, which are sorted by volunteer parishioners.

In addition to donations from parishioners, the parish also purchases additional food items for the baskets, such as flour, rice and cheese. On Nov. 6, the parish conducted a chili cook-off, and the money raised from admission to the event was donated to the Christmas basket project. This donation helped with the purchase of $10 grocery store gift cards, which will be given to the families as well, Francati said.

Another aspect of the initiative is the blessing of the food, she added. Each year on the day Christmas baskets are distributed, the parish’s pastor blesses the food before the baskets leave the building. This year, Father Peter Mottola is set to deliver the blessing before families arrive to pick up their baskets Dec. 11.

There also will be changes this year in the parish’s toy collection, known as the Angel Tag project, which is conducted as part of the Christmas basket initiative.

Each year, Vickie Iannettone, another member of the parish’s donation committee, collects information from community agencies about local families in need of Christmas gifts. She uses this information to compile a database to create cards containing the sex, age and size of the individuals. These tags are attached to paper angels that St. Ambrose students color, adding their first names, last initials and ages. The tags are then made available for parishioners to pick up during Mass, and they purchase the items listed on the tags.

“Those angels by some miracle fly over to our three churches, and people will take them out of a basket and then buy a gift, wrap it, place the angel on it and then bring it back to church,” she said.

This holiday season, each prekindergarten through fifth-grade student at St. Ambrose Academy will receive a toy through the Angel Tag project.

According to Iannettone, another aspect of the angel tag initiative is providing gifts for residents of Rochester Community, formerly known as the Blossom Nursing Home. Students also color the angels attached to the gifts purchased, which include such items as quilts, fleece blanket and shampoo.

“Then at the nursing home, the staff can pass out the gifts, because they’ll know what it is and know who it is that may need body wash or lotion,” she said.

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