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Good Samaritans

The members of this group at The Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Morrisville could be called Good Samaritans, or even Good SAMs.
 
That’s because they do the work of the Social Action Ministry — known as SAM — and assist those in need, even outside the parish community.
 
“We all have Christ in our hearts, and when we help others … it’s really Christ working through us. We are His hands and feet,” commented Mary Elfer, parish ministries coordinator. “It’s Christ within us that connect us to one another.”
 
Throughout the Catholic Church in Vermont, parishioners are reaching out to their neighbors in need through social outreach programs like SAM.
 
“Their faith drives them to do it,” commented Deacon Tom Cooney, a member of the ministry.
 
In Lamoille County, SAM connects people in need with necessary services, helps to support a community breakfast, provides emergency financial assistance, distributes Thanksgiving baskets, provides hot meals in winter to residents of low-income senior housing, donates to two local food shelves and collaborates with the Morrisville Rotary on an annual coat giveaway (for which the ministry purchases a dozen new children’s coats).
 
Most recipients are not Catholic, Elfer said, noting that the ministry is a mission of the parish; parishioners generously donate to it. “It’s important to see Christ in each other and the suffering Christ in those who suffer and to align ourselves with Christ through that suffering.”
 
She mentioned one man who received three phone cards through SAM, gifts Elfer was told will give him a new lease on life.
 
“Our hearts are raised up in helping each other,” she said.
 
Ramona Audet, a member of the Social Action Ministry, commented, “It makes you feel so good when you help somebody. People are so thankful.”
 
Pam Kozikowski, a parishioner of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Williston, said that parish is involved in a variety of outreach work including a ministry to senior citizens, support of the local food shelf, a winter coat drive, participation in Operation Christmas Child, support of Kurn Hattin Homes for Children in Westminster, Christmas gifts for clients of Howard Center in Burlington and support of Joseph’s House in Burlington. “It’s important for the community to know that we care and that we’re there for them,” she said. “We try to reach out to people so they know [the parish] is a warm, safe place to go and if they have been away from the Church for a while this is where they want to come back to.”
 
The goal of these outreach ministries, Kozikowski said, is “to spread joy, love and warmth.”
 
Connie Cooney, a member of SAM, said persons engaged in such work are living out the Gospel. “Jesus told us to love one another, and when you love one another, you take care of one another. And this is what we do.”

Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
  • Published in Parish

Vermont Catholic parishes actively involved in social justice ministries

Mindful of the words of the Lord: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”(Jn 13:35), Christians can yearn for nothing more ardently than to serve the people of this age successfully with increasing generosity. Holding loyally to the Gospel, enriched by its resource, and joining forces with all who love and practice justice, they have shouldered a weighty task here on earth and they must render an account of it to him who will judge all people on the last day.
--"Gaudium et Spes" (“The Church in the Modern World”), Vatican II, 1965 #93


A recent survey of parish social justice activities reveals that Vermont Catholics are serving others with untold generosity.  There are 73 parishes in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington and more than 100 active churches.
 
From visiting the sick and imprisoned, to assisting the homeless to feeding the hungry, the people of Vermont parishes are contributing thousands upon thousands of dollars in volunteer services to people in need throughout the state. 
 
Based on the survey, 96 percent of responding parishes participate in feeding the hungry either by donations to a local food shelf, managing their own food pantry, serving meals at the parish hall or food drives. Most parishes support multiple ministries: 89 percent poverty; 83 percent illness/infirm; 66 percent homeless; 30 prison and 29 percent other. Parishes support and partner with more than 155 organizations throughout Vermont to volunteer, donate goods and money.

Father Yvon Royer, pastor of St. Peter Church in Vergennes and St. Ambrose Church in Bristol, said the various ministries parishes offer help people in the larger community “to know God’s love through the acts of our parishioners.”
 
Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Morrisville, Johnson, Hyde Park and Eden reaches out to persons in need through its SAM – Social Action Ministry – program, which provides assistance with things like rent, utilities, gasoline, food and phone minutes. Spiritual guidance is available also.
 
“We try to give them hope,” Mary Elfer said of those who seek assistance from the parish.
 
She is the parish ministries coordinator and considers assisting others as integral to her faith. “We are to follow the Gospel and practice our faith through works of love toward our neighbor,” she said. “Christ told us to help each other. We are supposed to take to heart those in need.”
 
The parish also works with local service agencies to meet needs.
 
Ted and Kathy Barrett of St. Jude Church in Hinesburg coordinate the twice-monthly senior meal hosted by the parish in partnership with Age Well, an agency that advocates for the aging population of northwestern Vermont.
 
Motivated by their faith and their desire to help others, they have been involved in the meals for about 10 years. “The seniors need a place to get out and meet other seniors,” Mr. Barrett said.
 
“We enjoy doing it, and they enjoy the camaraderie, the friendship,” Mrs. Barrett added.
 
The meal program serves about 20 meals at each dinner, and volunteers include parishioners and community members.
 
In addition to a free bingo game, “there is a lot of chatting, telling stories and reminiscing,” Mrs. Barrett said.
 
Many parishes are involved in providing gifts to persons in need at Christmas. At St. Thomas Parish in Underhill Center, for example, a food project provides about six to 10 families with food and fruit boxes/baskets that include a ham or turkey and a gift card for additional needed items.
 
“God calls us to love our neighbor,” said Laura Wells, coordinator of religious education and coordinator of the Christmas food and fruit boxes/baskets. “When we open our heart to Christ…we are happy and … want to serve our neighbor.”
 
The parish collects food all year for people in need, but during Advent, the collection is used specifically for the food and fruit project.
 
“People are so good” about helping others in need, Wells said, noting that the Christmas food project is but one of the social justice works in the parish.
 
One of the important social justice ministries at St. Michael Parish in Brattleboro is St. Brigid’s Kitchen and Pantry. Healthy noontime meals are served four days a week, and a food pantry helps those who need food to take home. About 17,000 meals a year are served there.
 
St. Brigid’s is nearly 35 years old, and throughout the years faith has motivated many of its volunteers. “We are compelled to care for the poor because God demands it,” said Volunteer Coordinator Carolyn Pieciak.
 
But it is important to point out that as much as varied parish charitable works assist people in need, they also give volunteers a broad selection of ways to “give back” or to live out their faith.
 
“The old adage that ‘it is in giving that receive’ is made very true through the opportunity to share of one’s self through these different ministries,” Father Royer said.
 
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
-- Mt 25:34-40

 
 
  • Published in Diocesan
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