FALL RIVER – For the 19th year, Catholic Social Services (CSS) of the Fall River Diocese is sponsoring its Gift of Giving program to help brighten Christmas for hundreds of needy families throughout Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod.
At CSS headquarters in Fall River’s South End there is ample evidence that the program is in full swing. Staff persons and a dedicated contingent of volunteers are busy collecting, sorting, wrapping, and delivering warm clothes, toys and other necessary items.
While the numbers for this year aren’t final yet, CSS Director Arlene McNamee estimates that the Gift of Giving program will provide help to 1,700 families.
Each child gets two toys, an outfit of clothes and a coat if needed plus sundry items like gloves and a hat. For larger families, additional items like blankets and toiletries are provided.
The Gift of Giving program began in earnest around Thanksgiving when 20 or so parishes in the Fall River Diocese set up a giving tree decorated with prepared tags of needed gifts. Parishioners choose a tag, purchase the suggested gift, and return it unwrapped to their parish. The gifts are then transported to CSS headquarters where they are wrapped, labeled and organized into bundles to meet the particular needs of each recipient family. Program organizers anticipate some 15,000 items will be donated and then distributed to families in need.
McNamee is very grateful to these parishes for their participation.
“We couldn’t do this without the generosity of our parishes. I am so very thankful for their support particularly those that have been a part of the Gift of Giving program since its inception.”
Along with participating parishes, schools and a few organizations and businesses also set up the giving trees or make monetary donations.
McNamee also credits the dedication of the volunteers who so generously provide the labor for the operation, and it’s an operation that goes daytime, most evenings, and even Sundays as the time before Christmas grows short.
Mary Lou Frias, herself a longtime Gift of Giving volunteer, recruits and schedules the volunteers. She explained that they come individually as well as in groups representing a variety of schools, athletic teams, organizations and faith communities and that most come back year after year to help. CSS staff also donates hours to assist in the program.
In a recent interview in the diocesan newspaper, The Anchor, Frias credited the contributions of devoted volunteers for keeping the program going all these years.
“I’d say there are hundreds of volunteers by the time we are done” each year, she said.
Gift of Giving assists families and children from all over the Fall River Diocese. From mid-October through November, families of any religious denomination with needs that have not been met by any other organization may go to any Catholic Social Services office in the diocese to file a request for assistance from the program. Some supporting documentation is required.
Anyone interested in supporting the Gift of Giving program is asked at this point to offer a monetary donation to enable McNamee to purchase items to fill in the gaps for certain sizes and ages. Please forward a check payable to Catholic Social Services to that agency at PO Box M, South Station, Fall River, 02724. Kindly note “Gift of Giving” on the check’s memo line.
For further information, please contact Catholic Social Services at 508-674-4681.