Immigrants And Refugees

St. Nicholas Project Brings Shoppers Together on a Personal Quest

A family reads the names and sizes of a family in need, ready to pack a sack of clothing for them. Credit: Johnny Zhang

They checked their lists and made sure that the jackets, scarves, and gloves were the right fit among those who desperately need a bit of Christmas cheer this year.

“We’re shopping for people we know. We know their names, their sizes; we know what they need. It’s very personal,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, explaining the impact of the annual St. Nicholas Project shopping day held at Our Saviour Church basement in Manhattan Dec. 3.

The cardinal, joining dozens of other volunteer shoppers, sought out items for poor families throughout the city struggling with inflation and dire circumstances. The cardinal also dedicated his shopping to his late mother, who died in March, with this year marking his family’s first Christmas without her.

We’re shopping for people we know. We know their names, their sizes; we know what they need. It’s very personal.

Recipients were selected from Catholic Charities New York’s clients who need help this season. Some 165 bags were collected from the volunteer shoppers, which will be delivered to Catholic Charities’ locations around the five boroughs.

“They are getting gifts they wouldn’t be able to get without the St. Nicholas Shopping Day,” said Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York. He told the volunteers that “families will be better off because you got up on a Saturday morning. This is the essence of what we are called to as Catholic Charities.”

Monsignor Kevin Sullivan speaks to the giving spirit of the event.

The cardinal commented that as a child he didn’t much like it when he was given clothes for Christmas instead of toys. But the St. Nicholas Project offers a lifeline for struggling families navigating another New York winter, he noted.

Claire Brandon, a Manhattan physician, shopped for a 41-year-old single mom and her 12-year-old son experiencing difficulties this season. Young people such as James Walsh, 13, of Middle Village, Queens, were among the shoppers. This has been the third year James has shopped the event with his family. He was shopping for a woman caring for the three children of her sister, who had recently died from cancer.

People are really interested in giving back to the community. What could be better than shopping?

Priscilla Chan of Brooklyn has shopped previous St. Nicholas events, including when it was held at the former Astor Place K-Mart. “When we saw the opportunity we thought we’d come again,” she said, as her daughters, 11-year-old Madeleine and 8-year-old Cora, sought out clothes for children in need, spread out among dozens of tables that filled the church basement.

Katelynn Jones of the Catholic Charities’ Junior Board noted that the Christmas season is the apex of the season for the group, which organizes fundraisers throughout the year. Those events include a Christmas in July event which helps support the St. Nicholas Project shopping day. The group also participated in a shopping day for Catholic Charities’ clients held in November at the old Navy location on the Upper East Side. The Junior Board is comprised of young professionals dedicated to the Catholic Charities’ mission.

“People are really interested in giving back to the community. What could be better than shopping?” she said.

The day included free hot chocolate and doughnuts, and also integrated some of the wide mission of Catholic Charities. Tom Dobbins, Justice and Peace Coordinator of Catholic Charities, staffed a table offering fair trade coffee, tea and other items promoted by Catholic Relief Services produced by artisans and farmers from Latin America, Asia and Africa. Workers from Catholic Charities’ day laborer program, which supports immigrant workers as they pursue work in the Bronx and Yonkers, provided the manpower to transport the goods back to Catholic Charities’ locations throughout the region.

St Nicholas Shopping Day 2022. Credit: Johnny Zhang