In the season of Christmas and Hanukkah, churches and synagogues throughout communities in Nassau County have turned their efforts to spreading cheer to the less fortunate.
At the Holy Spirit Catholic Church in New Hyde Park, people fill out forms to specify gifts for family members. The information is put on a tree ornament in the church’s social ministry office and placed on a tree on the church. Parishioners take the ornaments from the tree – numbered to keep the recipients anonymous – and deliver the gifts in holiday wrapping to the social ministry office, according to Thomas Friel, director of social ministry at Holy Spirit.
“It’s a very generous parish,” he said.
Earlier this week, he showed a visitor the result in the form of nicely wrapped presents, and gift cards.
Each year, the parish selects the 10 neediest families and give them checks for Christmas – $100 for individual; $250 for families, Friel said. The program is administered with the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
A 12-year veteran of the Holy Spirit social ministry, Friel said the activity at the parish’s year-round food pantry has increased in the past several months.
“We’ve averaging two new families a month,” he said. “They come in maybe twice a month.”
At holiday time, Friel said working at the church’s social ministry office fill him with the spirit of the season.
“I feel good about it,” he said. “I’d much rather be on this side of the fence than be one of the people who come in here.”
In addition to non-perishable foods for its pantry, Holy Spirit also accepts coupons that parishioners donate for those in need.
At Temple Tikvah on Hillside Avenue in New Hyde Park, members of the congregation contribute to an annual toy drive for needy children celebrating both Hanukah and Christmas
The temple also runs a Coats for Kids collection in cooperation with the Federal Employment Guide Service and also collects coats for adults that go to military veterans organizations.
Some of its members have participated in soup kitchens run by an organization called God’s Love We Deliver.
It’s all part of the Jewish ethos summed in the Hebraic phrase “tikun olam,” (“to repair the world”), according to Bob Emerman, Temple Tikvah administrator.
“It’s part of what we are and what we think is important. We’re constantly trying to make the world a better place so we can live together,” Emerman said.
At the Christ Lutheran Church on Hillside Drive in New Hyde Park, the 50-member parish of Pastor Bob Cederstrom brings food to the Uniondale Food Pantry on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This year, they raised $1,600 to donate to families in the are that are impoverished.
Children in the church’s Sunday School created an Adopt-A-Vet program, sending presents and cards to military veterans overseas.
Each month, the church’s community outreach, directed by Angela Tigner, adopts a cause that the parish musters contributions to support.
“That’s what we believe is our Christian duty, to bring the light of Christ to those who don’t have it by sharing with others,” Cederstrom said. “We try to stay contemporary with what’s going on in the world.”
At St. Aidan Church in Williston Park, more than 50 families who are regular clients at the church’s food pantry have been helped by parishioners who’ve provided them food, clothing and toys for Christmas.
“Through the list of the clients, we ask them if they need additional help for the holidays,” said Rosemarie Cavallaro, director of the St. Aidan social ministry.
She said the response from the church’s parishioners has been “overwhelming,” with parishioners also providing gifts for adults who only requested gifts for their children.
“They feel so special that somebody cares,” Cavallaro said.
St. Aidan also donated Christmas gifts and baby goods, coats and diapers to Providence House, a facility that helps teenage moms who are pregnant. Cavallaro said she was told that one young mother cried and said it was the first gift she’d received with her name on it since she was a child.
St. Aidan parishioners also donate toys to children in pediatric wards at Nassau University Medical Hospital.
More locally, they also provide assistance through families in Mineola through social workers in the Mineola School District.
“It reminds you what Christmas is all about. It’s about giving, not receiving,” Cavallaro said.