Linda James, a parishioner of St. Anthony Church in White River Junction, has been packing up gifts for children in foster care for years, and this year is no different.

A former employee of the State of Vermont Child Protection Agency, she has a special place in her heart for the children served there and continues to spearhead an August back-to-school drive and a Christmas collection in the parish for gifts for them.

James, now retired, delivers the back packs filled with school supplies and Christmas gifts to the Department for Children and Family Services Division for foster care children in the Hartford district.

Last year she delivered nearly 150 Christmas gifts for more than 100 children.

If there are more gifts than needed for the children in foster care, the remainder go to children in need in the area.

In addition, some parishioners have made and filled with items like diapers and wipes quilted bags for babies who come into state custody.

“St. Anthony parishioners are so quick to help,” James said. “We continue to be vibrant in our outreach.”

The vulnerability of children touches people’s hearts, she explained. “Our parishioners are so incredibly generous and compassionate. They really want to make a difference in a child’s life.”

James, who worked for 40 years as a social worker — mostly in child welfare — said research shows that one healthy adult interacting with a child with “caring gestures can really impact the way a child perceives themselves and make them feel valued.”

Social workers who deliver the gifts to the children tell James how much the gifts are appreciated. “Any assistance you can give is time well spent for those children and families,” she said. “It takes a lot of people to come together to care for kids in care … and other families struggling with the stresses of life.”

Her vocation as a social worker is an offshoot of her faith; it is a way for her to live her faith and help others. “I feel a kinship to the work through my faith,” James said.

—Originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.