Dignity for the working poor at Christmas – this describes the work of Sr. Nora Sweeny, DC in Niagara Falls. The experience is powerful for the volunteers at her Christmas Shoppe. 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.

The concept is simple and a wonderful illustration of what can happen when folks see a need and do something about it

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.

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 working poor – earning between $7 to $10 an hour – 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.”

In the Christmas Shoppe 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.

As Moms and Dads enter the Store they are welcomed by a Personal Shopper who accompanies them to the various areas where they select items needed for their children. They choose the design, color, etc. especially the items they think their children will enjoy. Other practical gifts are offered. Towels, mittens, gloves, scarfs, personal items, toilet paper and other basic need items are available for each family. And last but not least, gift wrapping is offered to all shoppers.

Families are asked for a $5 donation if they have it to give, which Sr. Nora Sweeney, DC  donates to another area nonprofit and shoppers have the satisfaction of knowing their gift will benefit others.

Again this year the Christmas Shoppe welcomed hard working families in need to share in the generosity of parishioners  of local Catholic Churches ( St. Mary of the Cataract, Divine Mercy, St. Raphael’s St. Mary’s and St. Peter’s), Colleges (Niagara University and Buffalo College), students of local schools, Stella Niagara and St. Peter’s),  local businesses and private donors .

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

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.

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

An earlier version of this story from FamVin