Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter
December 29, 2023 // Diocese

Catholic Charities Makes Season Bright for Families in Need

Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter

Catholics worldwide await the birth of the baby Jesus, Savior of the world, during this Advent season. They are also preparing to celebrate the holidays with their families, including a delicious Christmas feast and a tree filled with presents underneath.

Mary and Joseph found themselves in dire need of shelter on the night Jesus was born. The generosity and empathy of an innkeeper allowed them lodging in a stable, a place to keep them warm and safe.

Families struggling because of inflation, sickness, and unemployment find themselves experiencing dire times this holiday season, and like the generous innkeeper, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has helped families provide a memorable Christmas for their loved ones.

Photos by Lisa Kochanowski
Pictured from left to right are Patty Finley, Catholic Charities volunteer, Lorenzo Mercado, Christmas Program recipient, Juan Munguia, volunteer and neighbor, and Hannah Finley, Organizer of the Catholic Charities Christmas Program. The group helped to load the Mercado family car at the recent drive-thru Christmas program pick-up held at the Catholic Charities West Region office in South Bend on Saturday, December 16.

“When meeting with sponsored families this year, we heard many times that, without this program, Christmas wouldn’t be financially feasible,” said Hannah Finley, Organizer of the Catholic Charities Christmas Program. “This program is more than just giving presents; it is about delivering hope to those who are most in need during this holy season. We couldn’t do it without the help of our donors who continue to go above and beyond with their generosity.” 

Each year, Catholic Charities West Region holds a Christmas program to provide gifts for children. This year, the program had an upgrade that removed many previous barriers for families to qualify and included food for the holiday table.

Previously, no one older than 14 received a gift, and all recipients were required to participate in case management. This year, the age requirement was moved to 18, case management was not required, and family packages included meals.

Lorenzo Mercado, left, and Camilo Velasquez, Donor Relations Manager for Catholic Charities, load items in Mercado’s car at the recent drive-thru Christmas program pick-up held at the Catholic Charities West Region office in South Bend.

“It’s been a really great turnout,” Finley said of the event on Saturday, December 17. “From my perspective, people showed so much more gratitude to have those barriers to the program eliminated.”

To meet the program’s eligibility requirements, families needed to fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, children must be residing in the homes at all times and must be living in the West Region (St. Joseph, Elkhart, Kosciusko, or Marshall counties), and children must be younger than 18.

The program was funded through generous sponsorships, organizations, and donors throughout the community. Last year, 52 children were served, and this year, 157 children received presents. Families were able to pick up packages and food through a drive-thru system in the parking lot of the West Region office on Miami Street in South Bend. Transportation issues were not a deterrent to participate, and a couple of lucky families were granted delivery service by members of the Catholic Charities staff.

This annual event allows the community to come together to help their neighbors in need, and gives families experiencing hard times the chance to find joy during a difficult time.

Joshua Schipper
Vickie Goenges packs items for Christmas families in the Fort Wayne and surrounding areas on Monday, December 11.

In Fort Wayne, on Monday, December 11, staff members and volunteers began the weekslong process of packing and delivering a record amount of Christmas gifts to struggling families, as 41 donors will begin dropping off presents for more an estimated 220 children, while the office in Auburn is expected to serve nearly 148 children.

“I hope they found awareness that the need in our community is very large and they enjoyed giving back to the community,” Finley said about her hope for donors. For recipients, “I hope they get to smile and enjoy the holidays and that they can pay it forward in the future.”

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