St. Agnes makes holidays happier for needy
Gifts distributed at Chicago project and locally
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
Celebrating the holidays in a neighborhood surrounded by gang violence and drug activity is difficult, but thanks to the generosity of St. Agnes Parish in Green Bay, residents of the Ida B. Wells Housing Project on Chicago's south side witnessed the spirit of the season.
Through its annual Advent Giving Tree, St. Agnes donated gifts, which were distributed at a Christmas party held at Holy Angels Church, located near the project.
"They needed sleeping bags, hats, mittens, winter jackets, practical things," said Ellen Mommaerts, youth minister at St. Agnes and one of the organizers of the Advent Giving Tree. "N E W Plastics (Green Bay) makes runs to Chicago. They provide all the packing materials and donate their time and the driver to bring the gifts to Chicago. That's been a huge blessing."
"They are thrilled to receive the gifts," said Sr. Sara Hale, OSF, who along with Sr. Maureen Bomaster, OSF, conducts outreach efforts at Holy Angels Parish. "We found children without beds, sleeping on the cold floor. We take them on camping trips to Wisconsin, so the sleeping bags will come in handy. In the past, we would bring the gifts to the housing project, but some always got stolen. This year we decided to have the party in our church basement."
Aaron Thrasher, a parish volunteer served as Santa Claus. Jim and Barbara VanLanen of Holy Redeemer Parish, Two Rivers, took digital photos of the kids with Santa as a keepsake. Unfortunately, some of the residents are unable to attend the celebration.
"We have to bring some of the gifts to them because they cannot cross an imaginary line," said Sr. Hale. "They are fearful what will happen to them. We try to invite more and more to come to the parish, but it is a difficult situation. For many of the kids, their primary caregiver is their grandparents or great grandparents because their mothers and fathers are drug addicts. Life in the projects is not easy. When you have thousands of people living in a building with two elevators, it takes its toll."
Sr. Hale, a retired principal, joined the staff at Holy Angels eight years ago. The pastor asked her to start a Bible school in the Ida B. Wells Project.
"It's so different here than any community in the Diocese of Green Bay," she said. "St. Agnes, for example, has wonderful people who you can count on as volunteers. You need healthy people to do the things they do. Here I try to get people involved, but many are sick. Many of the people are addicts."
"The Spirit in Green Bay is definitely working," she continued. "The people of the entire Green Bay Diocese are so generous. Holy Cross Parish in Bay Settlement has been very helpful. Kids have come down from Kaukauna and Appleton. People from Brillion, Whitelaw, Sacred Heart in Manitowoc, Reedsville, and St. Pius in Appleton have helped. My praise goes out to the entire diocese."
Sr. Hale fondly recalls a young man from Kaukauna.
"He was helping pass out things to the needy, and a homeless man asked him if he had any shoes," she said. "He gave him the shoes off his own feet."
St. Agnes also provides Christmas gifts to Green Bay area nursing homes and assisted living facilities including Grancare Nursing Center, Santa Maria Nursing Home and McCormick Memorial Home, needy families in the area through St. Vincent de Paul, and to Hispanic families through diocesan outreach efforts. The parish also conducts an Angel Tree project where gifts are donated for the children of inmates.
"It's been wonderful for our parish," said Dcn. Bob Nooker, who helps coordinate the Giving Tree project. "We've been working with the organizations for a number of years. We've developed a good relationship with Holy Angels. We've taken groups of kids down there for weekends."
This year, parish members donated approximately 400 gifts total, said Mommaerts.
"We ask people for what they want or need, and the people from the parish return the gifts wrapped," she said. "The anticipation seems to grow stronger each year. People can't wait for the first weekend of Advent to take an angel from the tree."