When we were first starting this ministry to “the Least, the Last and the Left out,” we soon realized that the children of the immigrant families we had sponsored did not receive any Christmas gifts. We had always been of the thought that it was each and every child’s inalienable right to receive at least three gifts for Christmas. Along the way, we discovered how many more parents in our urban neighborhood were struggling with trying to provide Christmas for their families.
With this in mind, we set out to establish partnerships with over 50 parishes in the Diocese of Worcester. We now start collecting names of children and their gift requests on the first Saturday of October. We start taking names at 5:00 a.m. and continue until 4:00 p.m. Each year when we arrive at the Little Store at 4:45 a.m. to open up for Christmas sign-ups, there are mothers waiting for us. We collect names for 13 weekend days in October and November, then daily from the first Sunday in December until December 23rd. The needs are placed on 2×4 labels and distributed to the parishes, where they are placed on Giving Trees.
On the second and third Sundays of Advent, we collect the gifts and bring them to a donated distribution center. The gifts are sorted, bagged, and tied together to await the arrival of many moms and dads to pick them up.
We started with 26 children some 30 years ago. For Christmas, 2011, we served 1550 families and more than 3600 children. That works out to about 16,800 gifts. This is no small task for the approximately 250 volunteers, some with over 20 years of helping, and the 8,000 people who take the tags off Giving Trees, go out and buy the gift and then bring it home and wrap it with the most tender love.
Although this is an anonymous program, it’s truly a personal program. People shop for the child whose name is on their card. They personalize their gifts with wrapping adorned with stuffed teddy bears, or candy or Christmas cards.
Some parents who have received gifts have come back after Christmas. “I found this $50 bill in the pocket of the winter jacket my child received. There must be some mistake.” We have the most pleasant task of telling them, “No, mistake. This was meant for you.” We wish you could see their faces and looks of total astonishment. We have come to call these moments in our ministry Christmas “Moments.”
Christmas moments. They never cease to bless us. Come, have some with us.