By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — What do Santa Claus and Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph have in common? They both make children (and parents) happier at Christmas.
Through Project Shining Star, Catholic Charities provides gifts, clothing, food and some basic necessities to people in need in the Kansas City area and farther away.
It began 12 years ago. With the help of generous organizations and individuals, children and families were given a brighter Christmas. The project has grown. This year, the agency will serve more than 1,000 people, including children, parents and seniors.
Catholic Charities was able to fill 220 donated plastic bags with oatmeal, tea bags, and other non-perishable foods to tide homebound seniors over when Meals on Wheels shut down because of Christmas or inclement weather. They also mailed out $10 pharmacy gift cards to 300 seniors.
There is a lot of need out there, said Pam Klein, Catholic Charities volunteer coordinator, who just weeks ago, took the reins of a new division of Project Shining Star, the Toy Shoppe. Families requesting help or known to need help are given “wish lists” to complete. Wish lists for both children and adults include “a need” and “a want.”
Names, ages and gender are recorded and wish lists are divided between case workers, er elves and, as donated gifts are delivered, they are sorted and portioned out to the case workers to deliver. When an organization or individual in the community calls to offer to adopt a child or senior for Christmas, a case worker is alerted.
Gifts and clothing are bagged so that gifts and clothing are age appropriate. The case workers delivered the gifts, unwrapped, to the parents. Each parent received a roll of wrapping paper so that they could wrap the gifts for their children and take some ownership in the giving process.
Parents who, for one reason or another, didn’t submit their children’s names, ages and Christmas wishes in time to be part of Project Shining Star, were still able to “shop” for gifts for their children at the new Toy Shoppe.
Klein oversaw the intake of hundreds of gifts for children. She and her husband, Todd, combined their business backgrounds in organization and retail management to pull the Toy Shoppe project together.
“I’m super-excited to see all the toys people have donated,” she said, “and make it happen for the kids. Todd and I are delighted to be able to put our arms around this project. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to do it. We’re going to be able to serve about 1,000 kids. They’ll have a Christmas!”
The Toy Shoppe, which was open Dec. 13th, 14th, and 17th, offered books, stuffed animals, reading buddies, action figures, and many other toys, among them about 150 handmade wooden cars, trains, planes, boats, tractors, bull dozers, fire engines and fishing rods with fish, all made by the Knights of Columbus of St. Charles Borromeo Parish.
Car, train and fire engine wheels rolled and a “fisherman” could reel in his or her catch. Another man built and decorated three wooden cradles, and his wife made the soft cloth dolls that slept in them, including the bedding and the dolls’ clothes. There were also a number of hand knitted hats and scarves, and stacks and stacks of new or gently used children’s clothing, coats and gloves.
A donor contributed 76 Christmas stockings for the kids. Other donations were received from the Salvation Army, the YMCA and area businesses.
Most of the children with wish lists were “adopted” by schools, parishes, organizations or businesses. St. Teresa’s Academy adopted 91 children and teenagers through their Project Shining Star program, “Adopt a Star.”
Kate Absher, who teaches English, Speech and Debate at St. Teresa’s, said that last year was the Catholic girls’ high school’s first year working with Catholic Charities’ Project Shining Star. She was asked to coordinate the program at STA for Christmas 2012.
“My goal was to establish a program at STA that would allow the girls to give back to the community but also truly feel a connection to those they were impacting. So instead of a toy drive, we decided to work with Project Shining Star so that the students could understand how each gift was chosen for a specific child – with a name and identity – who would otherwise go without.”
For its first year, “I really wanted to get the girls excited individually. We set up trees with ornaments and names of adoptees on those ornaments,” Absher recalled. “This year our Campus Ministry department decided to go through advisories (homerooms), which makes perfect sense because of the community aspect established in these groups.” Advisories are comprised of students from each of the four grades, freshman through senior.
Absher also became an advisor this school year. “My advisory adopted three children this year,” she said, “and although we would have liked to do more, we were thrilled to be able to pick out the individual gifts for our stars. We had two girls and a boy, and we all really felt excited to come in the day the gifts were due and show them to the others. I probably pulled the remote control car out like six times to show girls … we just felt that holiday spirit!”
Senior Kailey Witcher is in Advanced English teacher Katie Dolan’s advisory. She said, “My advisory adopted four children (having one kid per grade). Then each of us went out and bought a gift for our star, giving each child four or five gifts. I was excited to buy dress up clothes for a 4-year old girl!”
Absher said that students, their families and their teachers were all excited to go shopping for their adoptees. The gifts delivered to Catholic Charities included lots of play clothes; remote control cars; books; puzzles; teddy bears and stuffed animals; warm winter clothes; dolls and $25 gift cards for adult and senior adoptees.
“It was so much fun,” said freshman Kayton Froeschl,who is in Art teacher Theresa Wallerstedt’s Advisory. “My family went to the store together and we bought for a dad, mom and baby. It made me feel grateful for what my parents give me each day, especially at Christmas.”
The Kansas City offices of Polsinelli Law Firm adopted and provided toys and more for 118 children this year.
Pam Klein told The Key that just days before the Toy Shoppe was to open, an expected donation of toys was delayed. Along with other agencies, Catholic Charities put the word out to the TV channels for their evening news broadcasts on Dec. 12. The next morning an anonymous donor gave them $7,500 to purchase needed toys, books and clothing. The generous donation allowed the Toy Shoppe elves to shop for whatever was needed to be open Dec. 17. There were also hundreds of dollars donated in smaller denominations, she added. All was needed and appreciated.
Tacked to a wall of the Toy Shoppe is a letter received from a family making a donation to Catholic Charities in memory of their father who had recently died. “None of us ever want a child to have a Christmas without a toy,” the writer said.
Project Shining Star and The Toy Shoppe made sure that for about 1,000 kids and seniors, there would be toys, books, clothes, games and food on Christmas morning.