FALL RIVER – Catholic Social Services’ headquarters in Fall River’s South End becomes an even busier place in the weeks leading up to Christmas as the agency’s annual Gift of Giving program goes into full operation to help brighten Christmas for hundreds of needy families throughout Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod.

CSS staff persons and a dedicated contingent of volunteers are busy collecting, sorting, wrapping, and packaging toys, warm clothes, and other sundry items in preparation for their delivery before Christmas.

While the numbers for this year aren’t final yet, Dennis Canulla of CSS estimates that the Gift of Giving program will provide help to over 600 families.

Thanks to the program and the generosity of those who support it, each child within those families will receive two toys, an outfit of clothing, and a few smaller items like books, gloves or hats. Coats are also included to the extent that supplies last.

“I think every kid should be able to wake up Christmas morning, rip open the paper on a present and get something,” explained Canulla, who has been with CSS for 33 years in part- and full-time positions working in outreach to the disabled. “I was lucky as a child and always had presents under the tree. I want all kids to have that experience as well.”

Canulla is overseeing the Gift of Giving operation this year: the sorting, wrapping, packaging and distribution of gifts. The other key leader is Dr. Mary Lou Frias, who recruits, schedules and supervises the 150 to 200 volunteers who come in to assist the CSS staff. The Gift of Giving operation goes daytime, most evenings, and even Sundays as the time before Christmas grows short.

Frias has helped with the program since its inception 20 years ago.

“It’s Christmas to me, it fuels my heart and my soul,” she said.

Volunteers come individually as well as in groups representing a variety of schools, athletic teams, organizations, and faith communities.

“They range from 12 to 84 years of age, and many are here year after year,” Frias said of the volunteers. “My job is to get them to the door; once here, they want to be a part of it.”

Along with the volunteers, Frias also credits the dedication of the CSS staff who are “driven by the heart” to get it all done every year.

The Gift of Giving program begins 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.  Canulla noted that 10,000 tags were prepared for distribution to parishes. Parishioners then 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.

Along with participating parishes, schools and a few organizations and businesses also set up the giving trees or make monetary donations.

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.

At this point, anyone interested in supporting the Gift of Giving program is asked to offer a monetary donation to enable the purchasing of items needed 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.

Diocese of Fall River
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