Rochester parish’s Christmas project offers food, gifts, prayers - Catholic Courier
A woman looks at clothing in a church.

Carmen Green looks over clothing during the Dec. 19 Christmas Blessings Project at Rochester’s Holy Apostles Church. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

Rochester parish’s Christmas project offers food, gifts, prayers

ROCHESTER — Each year, Holy Apostles Parish offers a way to help local families in need have a good Christmas.

On Dec. 19, the parish staged its annual Christmas Blessings Project, during which people were welcomed to the parish and were allowed to select gifts of clothing, blankets and toys for their families.

In addition to Christmas gifts, the families each received a food basket that included a ham or turkey, vegetables, potatoes, bread, and other food items, according to Betsy MacKinnon, the parish’s volunteer coordinator. She explained that kids don’t have breakfast or lunch at school during the Christmas vacation, so the food baskets are meant to supplement those meals at home.

“We probably spend close to $6,000 on food for 100 families,” MacKinnon said.

Proceeds from the annual Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal helps to purchase food for these baskets. she noted.

“People need to know that the Christmas Appeal money goes directly to those who are poor,” MacKinnon said. “It empowers and enables us to do what we do.”

Having a choice makes Christmas gifts more special for those in need

According to MacKinnon, the inspiration for the Christmas Blessings Project has always been to allow people their choice of gifts so they could anticipate their children opening presents they chose on Christmas morning.

“The poor never get choice. This allows them to have choices, happy choices. That’s what we love,” she stated.

MacKinnon explained that the annual Christmas event is a group effort with many volunteers and takes about two months to organize. She said that suburban parishes donate hundreds of toys, clothes and blankets, which then have to be sorted, stored and displayed for the Christmas Blessings event.

Volunteers come from the parish but also include employees at Modica Law Firm who usually take the day off to help, she explained. After displaying and organizing the clothing and gifts, volunteers serve as personal shoppers to those in the 14606 area code who register and come at their appointed times.

Volunteers also wrap the gifts and offer to pray for people’s needs, MacKinnon said. There are two volunteers whose sole purpose is to ask people if they can pray with them, she added. When people have their wrapped gifts and food baskets, volunteers drive them home.

“After everyone comes through, whatever little is left, we pack up. People come to us in the winter for warm clothing, and we have that,” MacKinnon said. “We don’t turn anyone away.”

Blessings for those who receive and those who give

Father Anthony Mugavero, who has been pastor of Holy Apostles for 14 years, began the Christmas Blessings Project with MacKinnon during his first year there.

“The Lord surprised us in how he came,” Father Mugavero said. “Sometimes, people who come to this get surprised, too, because they feel loved. They feel like there’s an atmosphere that’s a gentle one, and they feel good.”

MacKinnon and Father Mugavero agreed that they and all their volunteers feel blessed as well.

“For us who are here, it gives us a feeling of Christ’s presence. He’s a gentle guest, he’s a gentle host, but he’s also a gentle receiver. We feel Christ in it,” Father Mugavero said.

“It’s a blessing for those who receive,” MacKinnon added, “but I believe it’s a double blessing for those of us who give. And I thank God for that.”

Personal ministry helps people ‘come to know God’

MacKinnon said that at the end of the day, the volunteers gather and share the stories and situations that touched them. Over the years, there have been particular stories that she remembers well.

“Once we had a mom come in who was upset, angry about life. Her life was very painful. She had a lot of trauma,” MacKinnon recalled. “She wasn’t sure she wanted to be here, but we talked to her, gave her a personal shopper, and she went through. And at the end, she hugged at least 10 people in tears, saying thank you. There was a conversion of heart, too, that there are good people in the world who do want to help. And hopefully this time of need is not going to last for your whole life.”

Another story involved a mother who had lost one of her children. “It was painful, and we knew that. She comes every year, we pray for her, we support her and help in any kind of way. She said to me, ‘How you treat me is my blessing,’” MacKinnon said.

Father Mugavero described the Christmas Blessings Project as being very personal for those who receive.

“They are accompanied, there’s a relationship that can happen in that accompaniment, and faith is about relationships,” he stated.

Likewise, MacKinnon reflected that, “Some people are attracted to our parish because they come to know God through sacraments and Scripture, but they also come to know God in a very intimate way by the works that we do to help people in need.”

Tags: Catholic Charities, Faith in Action
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