St. Michael’s Christmas Hamper Program answers Pope Francis’ call to be a spiritual field hospital and to meet people where they are.
By Sara Francis
Festive music floats through the air while ladies serve cookies and coffee to parishioners eagerly sorting and packing groceries and gifts into hampers.
“Hamper Day is one of my favourite days of the year,” said Colleen Fitzpatrick, chair of the St Michael’s Christmas Hamper Program. “It’s just a beehive of activity.”
On Monday, Dec. 18, an estimated 250 volunteers at St. Michael’s packed over 170 hampers for those in need.
“Christmas is a challenging time of the year for many of our families. For single mothers, Christmas is not a happy time, it’s a stressful time because they are barely making it as it is. And then there is the expectation there will be lights and gifts, and for many people, that’s not their reality,” said Fitzpatrick.
Each hamper contains a week’s worth of groceries and gifts for children 18 years and under. A modest grocery gift card is included to buy perishable items such as a turkey.
“We try to acknowledge the dignity of the recipient by personalizing the hampers,” said Fitzpatrick. “For Muslim recipients, their hampers would not include any pork products.”
As the parish has grown, so has the hamper program. It started at the former St. Michael’s on Bow Trail with about 40 hampers and grew significantly when the parish moved to its current location. Now, it even helps St. Bernard’s Parish in Parkdale meet its hamper needs.
A 15-member organizing committee backs Fitzpatrick, who has chaired the program for eight years. It works closely with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which vets each referral and supports several of the individuals and families with ongoing needs throughout the year.
“They are either the working poor or an illness that prevents them from having a steady income,” said Fitzpatrick.
“Everybody’s story is different, and we try really hard to serve everybody in their individual circumstances. It’s not a rote thing, we are not just packing a hamper, we are really making a connection.”
A couple years ago, volunteers delivered a hamper to an older shut-in gentleman. After that initial connection, parishioners have continued to visit him during the year.
Last year, the parish sponsored a Syrian refugee family who was overwhelmed with joy when a parish family dropped off their hamper and visited them, showing care and concern.
Parish and school groups’ combined efforts orchestrated the hamper program. The Confirmation candidates prepared tags to hang on the Angel Tree in the church foyer. Each angel bears the name, age, and gift suggestion of a child. Parishioners were then encouraged to select a tag and shop for that child.
On Hamper Day, the Grade 9 students from St. Joan of Arc School helped sort groceries. The Knights of Columbus managed traffic in the parking lot. The Catholic Women’s League served coffee and cookies. Parishioners then hand delivered the hampers in the evening.
New parishioners and people new to Hamper Day were welcome to come by and help out.
“It’s a wonderful way to get to know other parishioners, to be involved in an outreach ministry. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but it has a big impact,” said Fitzpatrick.
“We’re taking all the resources in our parish and reaching out to people in need. For some people, they are just barely managing to cope and this just kinda keeps them one step ahead.”
We pray that all the families in need who will be receiving the hampers we packed today will experience God's love for them, especially this Christmas.
Posted by St. Michael Catholic Community on Monday, December 18, 2017