By Jessica Easthope and Allyson Escobar
MANHATTAN — Volunteers from the Diocese of Brooklyn joined Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and about 300 others on Dec. 14 at Kmart Astor Place in Manhattan to buy Christmas gifts for needy families.
The event was part of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York’s St. Nicholas Project, which provides coats and warm clothes during Christmastime to those in need and also supplies social services throughout the year.
On a rainy Saturday morning, volunteers packed the aisles at Kmart, filling their carts with winter clothes, toys, blanket and other basics to purchase for their assigned families for Christmas. Volunteers are each given a family profile sheet, which lists the family members’ names, wish lists and their stories, along with a maximum shopping budget.
Volunteers can shop for multiple families. All of the gifts are purchased with funds from Catholic Charities.
Anabelle Maradiaga, a senior at St. John’s Prep H.S. in Astoria, came to volunteer with a group of friends. Her assigned family lives in Lower Manhattan’s Nazareth Housing, an emergency shelter that provides services to the homeless.
“It’s meaningful to know their story, because you understand more of what they are going through — things that many of us don’t experience, and it opens our eyes and hearts,” Maradiaga said. “So it feels good to be shopping for a good cause.”
Cameron Villaruel, a graduate of St. Matthias Catholic Academy in Ridgewood, has volunteered with the St. Nicholas Project for three years in a row. His red shopping cart was filled with winter clothes for a family of six, including a newborn, who receive services from the Mercy Center in the Bronx, a Catholic Charities program that provides immigration help, adult education and other services.
“I like giving back and knowing this family will be warm and content this Christmas, and they don’t have to reach too deeply into their pockets,” said Villaruel, 20, a student at Providence College in Rhode Island. “One of their kids is now in college. It’s satisfying to know that they care about their kids and want a bright future for them.”
Cardinal Dolan spoke to reporters about the importance of Catholic Charities’ giving.
“Catholic Charities knows these families. They aren’t just numbers we help. We know their names,” Cardinal Dolan said. “We are at our best when we’re giving of ourselves for others. So if you’re looking for fulfillment, satisfaction, focus and meaning, help somebody else’s life, then you’ll find it.”
Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, also noted that the shopping program is not a faceless, impersonal endeavor.
“Our volunteers shop for real people. It’s not just buying coats or jackets at the store, it’s about buying this coat for Jasmine, or this pair of socks for Robert,” Msgr. Sullivan said. “That’s the real beauty of today, because we treat each person as an individual made in God’s image and likeness.”