December 23, 2013

Hallowell churches gather gifts for kids in need

Social service workers on Monday picked up presents at Sacred Heart for children who might not otherwise get anything for Christmas.

By Paul Koenig
Staff Writer

HALLOWELL — Hundreds of presents in colorful gift bags and covered in festive wrapping paper sat in stacks on tables at Sacred Heart Parish Hall on Monday morning, waiting to be delivered to kids who otherwise might not receive anything on Christmas.

click image to enlarge

Christmas spirit: Ryan Gray, 8, left, and Olivia Bourque, 12, help distribute donated gifts to Maine Department of Health and Human Services caseworkers Monday morning at Sacred Heart Parish Hall in Hallowell. The presents, largely bought by parishioners of three Hallowell churches, will be given to families in need before Christmas.

Staff photo by Paul Koenig

click image to enlarge

Wishes granted: Presents awaiting pickup by caseworkers for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services line tables at Sacred Heart Parish Hall in Hallowell Monday morning. The presents, largely bought by parishioners of three Hallowell churches, will be given to families in need before Christmas.

Staff photo by Paul Koenig

The gifts, largely bought by parishioners of three Hallowell churches, each had tags with the recipients and requests: Girl, 8, art supplies. Boy, 12, Walmart gift card. Caseworkers from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, who submitted the requests to the churches organizing the drive on behalf of families and individuals, picked up the gifts Monday.

“A lot of the families we work with wouldn’t have gifts under their trees,” Lindsey Caron, a caseworker with the department, said while picking up presents at the parish hall.

Caron said the children, anywhere between the ages of 1 and 17, who receive the gifts might be in foster care or have parents who are barely making ends meet.

It’s the eighth year the Hallowell churches— St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Sacred Heart Catholic Church and Old South Congregational — have held the gift drive, according to Nina Fisher, one of the organizers from St. Matthew’s. Sacred Heart Catholic Church had previously done something similar for local families through the Head Start program.

Fisher, 33, of Farmingdale, said organizers distribute the tags, which can have up to four or five gift requests each, to the three churches, and parishioners volunteer to purchase the different gifts. She said some of her coworkers at the Maine Department of Transportation took 20 tags.

Inclement weather the last two weekends, however, almost kept the organizers from finding takers for all of the gift requests, Fisher said.

Last weekend’s services at the three churches were canceled because of the snowstorm, leaving 50 of the 400 total tags still unclaimed Sunday night.

“I was really scared about what I would tell these caseworkers when we don’t have enough tags for the requests,” Fisher said.

Another organizer, Karen Jones from Sacred Heart Catholic Church, said some of her friends on Facebook volunteered to buy some of the gifts after she posted the tags on Sunday.

She also visited the Augusta Target Monday morning to see if the store could help. The store donated $400 to use on gifts, Jones said, fulfilling all the Christmas gift requests.

Jones, 32, of Augusta, said she was happy with the response from the parishioners, especially at Sacred Heart, whose pastor died this year, putting its future in jeopardy.

The Rev. David Matson, priest at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, said Monday at the parish hall that people at his church usually jump at the opportunity to buy the gifts.

“Most people hate to ask for any help. It’s really uncomfortable. People are more likely to help than ask for help,” he said.

Matson said his church has been trying to find ways to reach more people directly. It helps expand both the church’s community and the community of those being helped, he said.

“The important thing is that people will feel like they’re thought about, that they’re cared about,” Matson said.

Paul Koenig — 207-621-5663pkoenig@centralmaine.comTwitter: @paul_koenig
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