Volunteers aid neighbors during day of service - Catholic Courier
Nine-year-old Ava Romano helps clean the bathroom of Spa Apartments resident Ramya Kane March 20 in Clifton Springs. Volunteers from St. Benedict Parish spent several hours helping local residents with house chores as part of a service day. Nine-year-old Ava Romano helps clean the bathroom of Spa Apartments resident Ramya Kane March 20 in Clifton Springs. Volunteers from St. Benedict Parish spent several hours helping local residents with house chores as part of a service day.

Volunteers aid neighbors during day of service

A woman with eight children walked into a winter-coat distribution held March 14 at the Rushville Town Hall. A group of volunteers from St. Benedict Parish, including Krissy Owens and her sons, Ethan and Bradley, were able to provide winter coats for all eight children.

The woman had turned to leave when one of her children said, "Mom, maybe there’s a coat for you, too."

The volunteers were able to provide a coat for the mother as well, and that experience was one of the most moving parts of the day, Owens recalled.

"Just to make a difference in that one family was worth the day," she said. "The truth is, it’s not so much about how many coats we gave out. It was about seeing the looks on the faces of the people, of the children helped. They were just so grateful."

Owens said that profound experience was enriching for both the children and the adults who participated in the coat distribution, which was part of St. Benedict’s Service Days, which were held March 14 and 20. Nearly 100 St. Benedict parishioners of all ages volunteered their time on those two days to help Ontario County residents in need of assistance, said Deacon Claude Lester, faith-formation and social-ministry director at the parish, which has worship sites in Canandaigua and East Bloomfield.

Volunteers gather at Canandaigua’s St. Mary Church before leaving to help local residents with house chores as part of a service day March 20. 

On the two designated Service Days, volunteers gathered at the parish hall to pray together before heading out to their assigned work sites. Some parishioners took part in the Rushville coat distribution, while many other volunteers went to individuals’ homes and helped with any tasks the residents couldn’t complete on their own. These tasks included everything from changing light bulbs and smoke-detector batteries to cleaning refrigerators, freezers and ovens. Several groups of parishioners traveled to Clifton Springs’ Spa Apartments, which are undergoing an extensive renovation. Parishioners helped some tenants pack their belongings and prepare to temporarily move out while their apartments are renovated, and helped other tenants move back into their apartments and unpack, Deacon Lester said.

"Nobody was at their work sites for more than two or three hours, and yet they made lasting differences for the residents and also in themselves. It was such a simple thing to do and yet such a profound activity," he remarked.

Deacon Lester worked with parishioner Brenda Abel, who is volunteer coordinator for Ontario County’s Office for the Aging, to identify people who would appreciate some help, and other referrals came directly from parishioners.

"We didn’t limit ourselves to Bloomfield and Canandaigua," Deacon Lester explained. "We really used more the footprint of the Office for the Aging than our parish footprint."

The goal of the initiative, he said, was to help parishioners realize that there are poor people in their own back yards, and that some neighbors don’t have family members who are willing or able to help them. The volunteers not only helped the residents, but also spent time talking with them, he added.

"This provided the opportunity to have a simple conversation and learn about people," Deacon Lester said.

"These people are our neighbors that we had not known. It was a really great experience," Owens added.

The experience was especially eye-opening for the children, many of whom are preparing to be confirmed, she added, noting that her sons are among those confirmation candidates. Many of the children were amazed to learn there are people who live in close proximity to them but who live completely different lifestyles.

"I think that the children really were exposed to situations they were not aware of. We live in a solidly middle-class area, really, and they were able to be involved in a charitable program where they met people who couldn’t afford coats in the middle of what was a horrible winter," Owens said.

The program was excellent, and Owens hopes to participate again in a few years when her two daughters prepare for their own confirmations. Deacon Lester said the parish is planning to hold more Service Days later this spring when the weather improves and volunteers can help residents with outdoor chores.

"We’re hoping to do it again, just because there is a need and we have the resources," he said.

Tags: Faith in Action
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