Christmas storyDignity for the working poor at Christmas – The was the title of an article on FamVin describing the work of Sr. Nora Sweeny, DC in Niagara Falls. She is known to many in the Province for her work with people in need via the Bread and Life Soup Kitchen in Bedford-Stuyvesant and now the Neighborhood Health Center in Niagara Falls. The  “Christmas Shoppe” program describes an idea that Vincent and Louise would celebrate…and hope that we can replicate! It is a story of allowing those in need to “shop” for gifts of necessities they could not otherwise afford and at the same time be reminded of the meaning of Christmas.

PS When have you ever heard of volunteers being so moved  that when their scheduled tour one or two hours of service refused  to leave when their time was over. Many came early and just stayed all day.

From FamVin…

Every Mom and Dad wants to give their children gifts at Christmas. For many parents the biggest hassle is fighting the crowds for that latest special gift that will light up their child’s eyes.

But for others who are classed “the working poor” or disabled it is not about special gifts but basic gifts, the necessities of life. Each month these men and women must decide what bills to pay and which bills can be put off for another month … men and women who are uncertain about what the next day is going to bring. So Christmas brings with it an added stress.

The Neighborhood Health Center in Niagara Falls has come up with what seems to be an innovative way to help parents shop for clothes and diapers with dignity that brings tears not only to their eyes but to the volunteers who administer the program.

Sr. Nora Sweeny, DC describes the program, “We are now into our second year of the Neighborhood Health Center Christmas Program. Our Moms and Dads will be able to shop for 3 sets of clothes for each of their children, receive socks, hats & gloves, and packages of toilet paper.

“We decided to give our clients a choice and at the same time respect their dignity. They were invited to come to our Christmas Shoppe and choose the items they had requested.”

And it’s not about toys!

We do not give toys since they are able to obtain them at the Boys and Girls Club and receive a Food Basket from Heart, Love and Soul Soup Kitchen. Our focus is needed in clothing and necessary household and personal items.

In December last year we had our first Christmas Shoppe. As our Clients entered our store they were greeted by a volunteer personal shopper who accompanied them and assisted them with packages, etc. Each family was permitted 3 gifts of clothing for each child. Choices were abundant and the enjoyment was evident as mothers and fathers carefully choose the right size and color needed for their love ones. And there were other special gifts – towels, toilet paper, mittens, socks, some personal items and many smiles from the willing volunteers who seemed to enjoy the experience as much, if not more than shopping that day.   All who came that day where also given the opportunity to have their gifts wrapped in the bright and colorful Christmas gift wrap so plentiful during this happy season.

When have you ever heard of volunteers who were scheduled for one or two hours of service refusing to leave when their time was over. Many came early and just stayed all day. The Spirit was WONDERFUL!

It’s a great time to gather and remember the wonderful story of God’s amazing gift of love, hope, peace, and joy – the birth of Emmanuel, God with us.

Sr. Nora continues pointing out that the Christmas Shoppe is not just about the physical necessities of life. It celebrates the joy of the birth of Christ.

“Our Christmas Shoppe will be open again this year, but it was suggested that we have Christmas music as people walk around selecting their gifts. We want to make it a festive shopping experience and enhance their joyful expectation of the coming of the Christ Child.

As each family leaves we will also give them a reminder of the meaning of Christmas as we wish them a Merry Christmas and hand each a religious ornament to hang on their tree.

Also, this year we will be asking families for a donation to help Agencies in our area. Our families are grateful and willing to help others as each of you at St. Mary’s are helping our families.

As each of you celebrates the joy of the Christmas Season know that Jesus is grateful for your kindness to those in need. Remember that in doing for others you are really doing for Him. As you reflect on giving know that your gift to a needy person is really a gift to Him.

Each day we experience the reality that poverty is on the rise and afflicting more and more of our families at Mount St. Mary’s Neighborhood Health Center which is located at 3101 9th St Niagara Falls, NY. Our Center is not confined to one neighborhood, one race or one family. We see the burdens that are endured by the working poor, by grandparents caring for their grandchildren, and by single parents who often are seen working two or three jobs in order to provide a living for their families.

The Neighborhood Health Center is not only a clinic, but it is also a place where the staff offers more than health services.   We aid people who are homeless or living without electricity … living with no furniture or food or diapers for their children, no toilet paper, (which cannot be purchased with food stamps), or insurance. We meet families who are not only in need because they are unemployed or infirm or suffering from some other debilitating circumstance, but we also encounter men and women who are among that group of people known as the working poor, men and women who each month must decide what bills to pay and which bills can be put off for another month … men and women who are uncertain about what the next day is going to bring.

I can share many stories of our families with you, but even those who push above a poverty-level wage can fall into a trap. Between $7 to $10 an hour, they make just enough to start losing what little safety net there is by becoming ineligible for food stamps and child-care assistance sometimes by making $1 or $2 dollars too much to be eligible for any financial or food assistance.”

Thank you Sr. Nora and the wonderful volunteers and benfactors!

Is this not an idea the Vincent and Louise would celebrate…and hope that we can replicate!