Advent is a busy time for all of us. We try to prepare ourselves spiritually for the coming of Jesus into our hearts and lives, and we also spend time on all of the other things we need to do – or think we need to do – like shopping, sending cards, baking, decorating and so on. We are also busy doing more socializing at this time of year with office parties, special dinners with friends and family, open houses, and events at our parishes and in our neighborhoods.
It’s nice to have these opportunities to enjoy time with family, friends, co-workers, fellow parishioners and neighbors. While I sometimes have trouble making all of the events, I try my best because every gathering is a chance to see those who have been a part of my life or are part of what I do now at Catholic Charities.
As I enjoy my time with people, I think about how many of our clients do not enjoy the same opportunities for fellowship. They don’t receive invitations to holiday parties or social events. For them, it’s a matter of survival – trying to find food, warm clothing and a place to sleep at night.
Catholic Charities has a couple of big events around this time every year that try to feed the spirit as well as the body. Both are uplifting for our homeless clients, and perhaps even more so for those trying to make a difference.
The first happened on Thanksgiving Day, when we gathered at the Pepco Edison Place Gallery downtown. Pepco graciously lets us use this outstanding space every year, and through Catholic Charities Enterprises we are able to provide a special Thanksgiving meal that goes beyond what we can do day-to-day in shelters and food kitchens. The tables are covered in white table cloths with silverware and nice plates, and music is provided by the Martha Doyle Trio. It is a wonderful event that has become a highlight for our homeless friends.
In addition to the warm meal and friendly atmosphere, everyone left with a brand new coat on his or her back. This is a tremendous need every year because the poor have no place to store their few belongings, so coats are often lost or discarded during the warmer months. Pepco gives us a check that allows us to buy everyone who comes to the dinner a nice new coat for the winter. This year, we also handed out $20 gift cards for CVS, so everybody had a chance to buy medicine, snacks or anything else they might need.
Our second event comes right before Christmas (Wednesday, December 21 this year). It, too, is a special dinner, this time at our offices at 9th and G Streets, N.W. Each room in the Hickey Center becomes a dining area for our clients, and the staff and volunteers go all out getting everything ready. Each department decorates a different area of the building, and it is special to see the entire building so beautifully and festively decorated for our Christmas dinner.
One of the things I especially love about this event is that people can sit in smaller groups and are joined by volunteers who take the time to visit with them and truly enjoy a meal together. There is a strong sense of family – the family of God. We gather as brothers and sisters in Christ to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and religion, race, income or anything else doesn’t matter.
Adding to the joy, courtesy of Jim Koons and Koons Automotive, each of our clients receives a new backpack as well as a chit for a new pair of shoes. In early January, they will go to the Payless store down the street, and thanks to a discount from Payless and with our support, they are able to shop for their own winter boots. They rarely get the luxury of picking out what they want and something that is new, which makes it even more special. I wish you could see the joy on their faces as they get their new shoes.
I should also mention our Angel Tree program. Through your support, we will provide more than 800 children with Christmas gifts this year. Your parish may do something similar, which makes it all the more remarkable. It has been wonderful to see so many volunteers step forward to ensure a gift for a child who might otherwise not receive one.
More than helping meet immediate physical needs, these events are reminders of God’s love. After all, this is the season where we celebrate God’s greatest gift, his own son who comes to us. This love is experienced by those being served as well as those who are serving. One of the nicest comments we’ve received in recent years came from the young daughter of one of our leaders, who said that the best part of her Christmas was not the presents she received but the chance to help serve and spend time with the homeless at our Christmas dinner.
That’s a great lesson for all of us. By all means we should enjoy the season and everything it brings – time with family and friends, giving and receiving gifts, and celebrating the birth of our Savior. May we also make time this season and throughout the year to open our arms and hearts to those who are less fortunate. I promise you that every time you make a difference for someone in need, Jesus will be born again in their heart and in yours.