For one vibrant faith community, raking leaves is both an act of Christian service and a spiritual exercise.

Within the Essex Catholic Community, comprised of the parishes of Holy Family-St. Lawrence in Essex Junction and St. Pius X in Essex Center, the bi-annual community service program, Serve Our Neighbors, brings volunteers and neighbors together in service and spiritual growth.

The most recent event took place Oct. 27 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; it drew some 180 volunteers for a day of prayer, service for families and individuals in need, reflection and fellowship.

Types of service ordinarily include yard work, minor home repairs, hospitality visits and garage clean-outs. Teams for Saturday’s outreach, the second largest in the event’s history, completed 19 different projects.

John McMahon, parish director of faith formation and program coordinator, explained that Serve Our Neighbors was begun about nine years ago, the “brainchild of three women from our parish: Julie Macy, Elizabeth Mahoney and Marybeth Redmond.” The three had participated in JustFaith, a Catholic social teaching prayer and study group.

“The program encouraged participants to work for justice by building relationships with those who are marginalized. Since we began these events, we have come to realize that doing such work with such a mindset also builds relationships within our own parish community and strengthens our local community as well,” noted McMahon.

Edmundite Father Charles Ranges, pastor, who was on site for the projects, stressed the importance and intentionality of the prayer element of the program in “providing an experience of doing service in the name of Jesus.”

It is also a meaningful experience for families, he said, as the children learn that “being a Christian means service to others.”

For Leopold Beauregard, 87 and a lifetime, once-active parishioner of St. Lawrence, the volunteers and the work they do is “very much appreciated. There’s not much I can do anymore.” Noting that he’s been the recipient of service since the program started, he acknowledged that his need for help increases each year. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to thank them for what they’ve done for me,” he said.

McMahon stressed that the multi-faceted program requires a dedicated team of 20 people to recruit volunteers several weeks in advance; to identify and prioritize needy individuals and families, whether they are parishioners or not; create a list of services to meet their unique needs; develop a logistical plan for the day, including maps for each team to get to their assigned location; arrange for on-site childcare for children under five; prepare an opening prayer session, set up for morning refreshments in the Holy Family Parish hall and organize the closing barbecue.

For more information about Serve Our Neighbors Day, contact McMahon at 802-878-5331, ext. 202 or