Joyful Event Lifts Spirits at Homefirst
The families are part of Union County's Homefirst emergency shelter program, which provides transitional and permanent housing. Homefirst (Web site: www.homefirstinc.org), based in Plainfield, is a non-profit organization offering a broad range of critically needed support services to hundreds of low-income families, including those that find themselves homeless (see The Catholic Advocate, Dec. 10).
The Saint Bartholomew students were responsible for every facet of the party including set-up, food preparation and service, manning the craft stations, coat checks, cookie stations, Santa's helpers and clean-up. As a part of the initiative, the Homefirst family members-about 200 in number-received personalized gifts based on wish lists coordinated by Homefirst. The students held various fund-raising events to pay for the gifts.
"The true meaning of Christmas is love," Father John J. Paladino, the pastor of Saint Bartholomew, said. "These students are celebrating and demonstrating the extraordinary love of God by giving of themselves in ways that will touch hearts and souls. The students are focusing on giving and receiving with a whole new perspective."
Parishioners Susan D'Apuzzo and Elaine Coupe worked with the students to organize the party. Approximately 98 eighth-grade students, under the direction of Patricia Krema, were involved in the planning of the party since its inception. "Our primary purpose in this project has been for the students to feel good about community service so that they can continue similar efforts throughout their lives," Coupe explained.
Confirmation instructors, parents and volunteers also helped in the preparation and implementation of this event, including Lina Isolda, Michele Blanck, Paul Raphael, Jeff Ringel, Josephine Walsh, Carolyn Colonna, Dennis VanNatta, David and Connie Boruch, Laura Langner, John Howarth, Andrew Krema and Matt D'Apuzzo.
"It has been wonderful to see these families working together towards a common goal and having fun while achieving it," D'Apuzzo said. "We are truly overwhelmed by their kindness and by the generosity showed by many of the Homefirst support congregations who helped us collect gifts for these families in need."
"The essence of Christmas was brought to life by the eighth-grade confirmation students who arranged a heartfelt and spirit-filled celebration for our families," Ellen McGovern, executive director of Homefirst, said. "I was moved by the genuine outpouring of love and generosity of the students towards our Homefirst families,"
"It was so great to see the interaction the students had with our clients," Susan Oldroyd Laffler, Homefirst director of development and public relations, said. "These kids were living their faith. They really 'got it.'" Oldroyd Laffler is a former Catholic youth minister at Saint Helen Parish, Westfield, where she worked with Fr. Paladino.
(Editor's note: Adrienne P. Robertiello, marketing communications and public relations administrator for Saint Bartholomew Parish, provided most of the information for this article. Todd Laffler submitted the photo.)