By Sara Kraft
Special to the Catholic Key
KANSAS CITY – “Close your eyes for just a moment and imagine a Christmas tree,” requested St. Charles School Principal Mary Omecene at St. Charles School’s St. Nicholas Day all-school prayer service. “Now, imagine waking up on Christmas morning and finding nothing underneath the tree – no Christmas presents.”
For many families throughout the metro area, this image is harsh reality, Principal Omecene told students.
“A grandmother recently came to the Bishop Sullivan Center looking for help with Christmas presents for her three grandchildren,” describes Joe Quinn of the Bishop Sullivan Center. The children’s mother was in prison, and the grandmother explained the children were “better off” without her influence.
“The oldest, an eight year old boy, had holes in the bottom of his shoes,” Joe continues. “His sisters are five and three. Even though the weather had recently turned frigid, one of his sisters was wearing a tiny dress simply because she didn’t have anything warmer.”
The family currently lives on $274 a month from the grandmother’s Social Security check. They live in subsidized housing, but the gas and water were turned off because they couldn’t pay the bills. The Bishop Sullivan Center gave them a gift card to Payless Shoes so the eight year old could have shoes, a pair of pants for his sister to replace the dress, and helped turn the water and gas back on for the family. “When the family left,” Joe explains, “they were so happy.”
Anyone can fall on hard times. “It could happen to anybody,” Joe told St. Charles School students.
Due to the Bishop Sullivan Center Walkup Program, and the generosity of Visitation Parish, Our Lady of Peace Parish, and St. Charles School, this family and approximately seventy-five other families who were not able to be adopted by an agency for Christmas will have presents underneath the Christmas tree. Families fill out an application, and those that qualify can receive two items per child. This includes clothing, pajamas, shirts, and hats and gloves from Visitation and Our Lady of Peace Parishes. St. Charles School provides the toys from their annual St. Nicholas Toy Drive.
For over fifteen years, students at St. Charles School have collected toys on the Feast of St. Nicholas to help others. When St. Charles first began the toy drive, faculty wondered, “How can we put Christ in Christmas for these students? How can we focus on giving instead of what we are going to get?” explains Joyce Englund, St. Charles School counselor and toy drive coordinator. “Since then, our students have matured in their attitude toward Christmas. They want to give. Our students open their hearts completely to these people they will never meet. They are now more excited about this celebration than any other celebration throughout the school year.”
Each year, St. Charles School eighth graders lead the toy drive, responsibilities ranging from publicity in the St. Charles School community, the collection of toys, the prayer service, and taking the toys to the Bishop Sullivan Center. Eighth graders Emily Burdolski, Katie Cardello, Emily Flack, Megan Hayden, Emily Laird, Avery Morales, Katie Pileggi, Karli Reichert, Natalie Rose, Maren Rynerson, Allie Schmitt, Jessica Shepherd, Abby Tomes, and Anne Tomes helped with the drive. They estimate they collected over 400 toys to help the less fortunate.
Kim Clugh-Ruhl from the Bishop Sullivan Center spoke to the leadership team as they unloaded the toys at the Bishop Sullivan Center. “Thanks so much. You’re going to make families so happy.”