Immigrants And Refugees

Saint Nicholas Volunteer Day makes helping others a personal experience

Arms full at St. Nicholas Volunteer Day 2021. Photo: Bridget Haggerty for Catholic Charities New York

It’s personal.

That was a common theme among participants in the Dec. 11 annual Saint Nicholas Volunteer Day sponsored by Catholic Charities New York at the Church of Our Saviour in Manhattan, during which donors shopped for coats, jackets, gloves and scarves for needy New York families this Christmas season.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan was among those who shopped for a needy family among items placed on tables throughout the undercroft of the church, which was crowded with hundreds of volunteers and donors making an impact on families struggling this year. Each donor was given the name of a family, as well as sizes and needs.

Donors and volunteers enjoyed hot chocolate and coffee, bagels, and Christmas greetings sent out via social media, and Christmas music. Yet the holiday atmosphere did not overshadow the serious purpose.

“We are not made by God to be isolated and alone. We were made by God to be for others. That radiates on a day like this,” said the Cardinal, who talked right before picking out items for an immigrant family living in the Bronx.

Cardinal Dolan shops for a family at Catholic Charities’ St. Nicholas Volunteer Day at Our Saviour Parish, Manhattan. Photo: Bridget Haggerty for Catholic Charities New York.

He told those gathered: “At Christmas, God got personal. He didn’t send us an anonymous gift.”

This was the thirteenth year for the event, last year held virtually because of Covid concerns, and in previous years held in department stores. The cardinal said that this year’s location reenforced the connection of the church community to giving to the poor this season. A line snaked throughout the church undercroft as donors tallied up their items, which were placed in large shopping bags for distribution through Catholic Charities’ agencies.

Families who were assisted included a disabled, single mother of two, behind on her rent; a single mother of three, recently relocated from a city shelter where she resided for two years, now a resident of an apartment in Catholic Charities-sponsored housing in the Bronx, and a father of four who lost employment during the Covid pandemic.

Some 1,100 families were selected as program recipients.

The clothes are now stored at Catholic Charities’ offices at 1011 First Avenue in Manhattan as well as Mount Loretto on Staten Island for distribution via Charities’ agencies throughout the five boroughs and Westchester County.

Families shopping for those in need at Catholic Charities’ Volunteer Day at Our Saviour Parish, Manhattan. Photo: Bridget Haggerty for Catholic Charities New York.

Beneficiaries of the clothes are selected by Catholic Charities’ workers at agencies including Beacon of Hope, a residence in the Bronx for formerly homeless people struggling with mental health issues, and Alianza, which serves immigrant communities of Washington Heights and the Bronx.

Shane Mallee of Manhattan shopped with Maura Treseler, who was visiting from Maryland for the weekend. They met at Boston College and graduated three years ago. At the Jesuit school they said they were involved in community activities and wanted to continue that habit. As they looked over scarves and gloves, they said they liked the act of personalizing their Christmas giving by shopping for a family selected by Catholic Charities.

“We will do it again,” said Shane, noting he plans on it becoming a personal holiday tradition.

Claudine Holt of Manhattan worked as a volunteer, sorting out clothes for sale. She said there is a particular need this year as families cope with the fallout from the Covid pandemic.

James Walsh, 12, of Middle Village, Queens, shopped for a newly-arrived family from the Dominican Republic who need winter clothes after moving from topical climes.

His sister, Alexandra Walsh, 10, said it was important to participate in the Saint Nicholas Project because “we have a lot and they don’t.” The family has been a regular participant in the Saint Nicholas Project.

Volunteers select clothing based on the family profiles provided to each shopper. Photo: Bridget Haggerty for Catholic Charities New York.

Sarah Trillo, vice chair of the Junior Board of Catholic Charities, said her group, comprised of young professionals who assist the mission of the agency, helps with the Saint Nicholas Project throughout the year, including a Christmas in July fundraising event.

The program is appealing, she said, because “it’s very active and personal” as donors get to assist particular families in need, making a connection beyond a simple cash donation.

Catholic Charities’ board member Nancy Matta echoed that sentiment.

“We feel like we are directly helping them,” she told New York One, which covered the event.

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, Director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, noted that the participation of young adults and families was heartening.

“This is our response that many of our brothers and sisters have human needs,” he said. At this time of year, he said, it’s important to spread the message that “we need not just to look inward but to look outward.”

Cardinal Dolan tied the mission of the church to the event, stating that the work of Catholic Charities is a key component in the church’s mission throughout the year, not just at Christmas.

“Sometimes it’s more reflective in what we do than the words we say,” said the Cardinal.