Catholic groups remember others during Christmas - Toy drives, presents for soldiers just some of the annual giving efforts

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, December 25, 2016

Catholic groups remember others during Christmas - Toy drives, presents for soldiers just some of the annual giving efforts

Mia Knight puts some finishing touches on a gift before she and her classmates from St Juliana School prepare to spread Christmas cheer at Presence Saint Benedict Nursing & Rehabilitation in Niles by delivering packages to residents on Dec. 20. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Eighth graders Mary Kate Moran, Claire Boland, Rory Lally, Stephanie Smith, Sam Hay, Claire Byrne and Maeve Malenock visit with former pastor of St. Juliana Father Donald Ahearn at Presence Saint Benedict Nursing & Rehabilitation in Niles on Dec. 20. The students from St. Juliana School spread Christmas cheer by delivering packages to residents. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Christmas is a season of giving, and that’s especially true for parishes and institutions in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

In the weeks leading up to the holiday, school children, parishioners and employees at Catholic institutions came together to offer a bit of Christmas cheer to everyone from American soldiers serving in Afghanistan to elderly residents of nursing homes. Meanwhile, hundreds of parishes and schools had their own giving trees, and thousands of people donated to Catholic Charities’ Celebration of Giving.

Among the efforts:

▪ Parishioners at St. Julie Billiart Parish in Tinley Park packed 392 boxes with snacks, toiletries and Christmas cookies to send to a U.S. Army unit stationed in Afghanistan.

“The parish has been doing this for about 10 years,” said Father Louis Tylka, St. Julie’s pastor.

This year, the commander that the parish communicates with said he had 270 men and 30 women serving who could use the holiday care packages, so St. Julie asked parishioners to take the boxes home and fill them.

“It’s just the things we take for granted in our day-to-day life that aren’t as easy to obtain over there,” Tylka said, saying a box might include socks, T-shirts, toothpaste and toothbrushes, deodorant, and snacks. The Christmas cookies — nearly all homemade — are packed separately to be shared in the unit.

Families that pack boxes can also give money to pay for the shipping, Tylka said, but if they don’t, the parish pays the $14.25 per box from the proceeds of a special collection as well as its general funds. This year, the Knights of Columbus also donated $500 toward shipping.

The parish sends the care packages twice a year, once at Christmas and once in the summer, for “Christmas in July,” Tylka said. A collection area is open all year; if it receives more goods than it can send, the parish donates them to local organizations that serve veterans.

Tylka, who has been at St. Julie for three years, said the collections always get an enthusiastic response.

“It’s overwhelming,” he said. “I’m moved to tears by so many people wanting to make someone happy and make Christmas brighter for people who are so far from their families.”

▪ Students at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights collected, packed and wrapped gifts for 40 families screened by Respond Now, an emergency-assistance organization. Each family was matched with an Emmaus leadership class, and students then planned how to get what they needed to assist the family with their teachers’ help and supervision. Once the gifts and food boxes were packed, the families came to the school to get them.

The school has participated in a holiday food and gift drive every year since it was founded in 1958, said Lisa Belzeski.

▪ Seventh- and eighth-graders at St. Juliana School filled close to 90 Christmas bags and baskets for residents of St. Benedict Home in Niles. Each student was given responsibility for at least one basket, although some students took two, said Katrina Mc- Dermott, St. Juliana’s principal, with boys making baskets for men and girls making baskets for women. The baskets contain practical gifts like warm socks, personal hygiene items and hand lotion, as well as Christmas ornaments, cards and candy.

“They like their candy,” McDermott said.

Once the baskets and bags are put together, the eighth-graders make the short walk down Touhy Avenue from their school to the home and hand deliver them, taking time to stop and chat with residents along the way.

“The residents really enjoy having the students come to visit,” McDermott said.

The student council at St. Juliana also took up a collection this year to buy presents for families who were represented with tags on the parish giving tree, which was organized by the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The students contributed $800, and student council members, with the help of parents and teachers, shopped at Target for gifts for the families on the tags.

▪ Students, families and staff members at Everest Academy in Lemont worked for months to pull off their “Christmas Miracle.”

The school collected not just food and Christmas gifts, but also blankets, coats, clothing and even some small appliances for families identified by parishes and other Catholic organizations in Vicariate V.

“We worked with Bishop Andrew Wypych, who referred us to the parishes and other places,” said Everest Academy’s Renee Yep.

Then the school invited all the families in for lunch and an opportunity for their children to visit with Santa. The guests then were invited to visit the different rooms of the school to receive needed items.

This was the second time Everest Academy has performed its Christmas Miracle. The school did it before in 2014.

It came together with the help of donated warehouse space to store the items, weekend wrapping parties for toys and lots of monetary and in-kind donations from school families as well as community members who heard about the effort.

“What we’re doing is serving people in our community,” Yep said. “There has been a lot of support. I think it shows that it’s not that hard to live your faith. It’s not. There are a lot of small steps we can all take together.”


  • catholic schools
  • st. julie billiart
  • marian catholic high school
  • st. juliana
  • everest academy

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