Throughout the year, Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne-South Bend provides mental health counseling, help for families, and assistance to refugees in the diocese. But as we approach the holidays, those who make up the charitable organization tackle a seasonal project: providing Christmas gifts to children 200 percent or more below the poverty level. They call it, simply, the Christmas Program.
And they need help to execute this vital mission.
“Catholic Charities seeks individuals, families, businesses, and organizations with giving hearts to help make Christmas a little brighter for children in need,” said Isabella Witulski, Christmas Program Coordinator in Catholic Charities’ East Region (Fort Wayne area) office.
Witulski told Today’s Catholic how volunteers can help the community through the Christmas Program. Children signed up for the program provide Catholic Charities with their Christmas wish lists. The role of a sponsor (whether an individual, business, or group) is to shop for gifts for that child or donate money to have the staff at Catholic Charities buy the gifts. Organizations can also set up giving trees to make sure all children signed up for the program receive Christmas gifts.
Every region of the Christmas Program has different needs. For instance, Witulski said the locations in Fort Wayne and Auburn need more sponsors to provide gifts for children. And while all children have been matched with sponsors in South Bend’s West Region location, staff there still desperately need other forms of help.
Hannah Finley, Coordinator of Volunteer Experience at the organization’s West Region office, has worked for Catholic Charities as a refugee case manager. This is her first holiday season coordinating the Christmas volunteering, and it’s a record-breaking one for her office, with the number of children enrolled in the Christmas Program more than doubled, from 53 children last year to 130 this year. For an organization whose resources were already stretched thin, there is concern about the number of gifts that will be coming in.
“The gifts would flood up the hallway,” Finley said of past Christmases. “Our office is not suitable for 130 children’s worth of gifts.”
Finley’s main concern is handling the generosity of the sponsors – finding volunteers to sort and distribute gifts to make the gift pick-up weekend go as smoothly as possible.
Finley notes that the influx of participants in the Christmas program this year comes partly from the program’s relaxing of some previous parameters. For instance, the age cutoff for children who can participate rose this year from age 14 years to 18 years, and families are no longer required to already be participating in Catholic Charities programs before signing up for the Christmas Program. “Anyone, whether they’ve heard of Catholic Charities before or are just hearing about this program, can sign up,” Finley said.
Finley thinks the program’s growth is due to more than just parameter changes. “Truthfully, we get so many more kids just because of the need in our community and how quickly the word spreads,” Finley said.
To see how you, your business, or organization can help with this year’s Catholic Charities Christmas Program, contact the following leaders:
East Region (Adams, Allen, Huntington, Wabash, Wells, and Whitley counties): Isabella Witulski, [email protected]
North Region (DeKalb County): Jennifer Alverez, [email protected]
West Region (Elkhart, Kosciusko, Marshall, and St. Joseph counties): Hannah Finley, [email protected].
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