Young people proudly display the games and other items donated to the New Lisbon Developmental Center. Photo courtesy of Jeff Siedlecki
Young people proudly display the games and other items donated to the New Lisbon Developmental Center. Photo courtesy of Jeff Siedlecki
" Be bold. Be open to where the Holy Spirit moves you, and don’t let fear stop you from taking chances. " Jeff Siedlecki parish youth ministry coordinator
To hear Jeff Siedlecki tell it, the entire operation began with an idea and a single phone call.

Upon finishing a third food drive with countless volunteers from Holy Eucharist Parish, Tabernacle, for Cathedral Kitchen – a program serving the hungry and homeless in Camden – the parish youth ministry coordinator got both a reminder and an idea from the parish’s Grand Knight.

“Let’s not forget about our friends at New Lisbon [Developmental Center],” said Grand Knight Martin Gottel of Knights of Columbus Council 8733.

The state-run facility is home to 463 developmentally challenged men and women who live in cottage-like community – and were particularly hard-hit with COVID-19.

“Every Christmas, we do a gift drive for the residents there through the Knights of Columbus – we hang a Christmas tree with gift requests from each individual resident, and members of the parish [fulfill those requests],” Siedlecki explained. “The Knights load them up like Santa in his sleigh and deliver them to New Lisbon.”

That inspired Siedlecki’s phone call to the facility, asking what was needed now. Jacqueline Kulsick, New Lisbon program specialist and community relations department representative, had the answer.

“She said, ‘What they’re really in need of is items that could enhance the lives of those who call New Lisbon home,’” Siedlecki recalled.

Given their relationship with the annual Christmas drive, Siedlecki knew he could count on the Knights of Columbus to deliver gifts. Also instrumental were parishioners Donna Remaley, director of religious education, and Jessica Garrett, communications coordinator, in getting the word out on social media and the parish website.

In short order, a list of requests from New Lisbon residents was posted online, and people signed up to fulfill each request. Siedlecki said even non-parishioners stepped in to take items. Plans were made for the Knights to deliver gifts to the facility the first few days of July.

“I see such joy in the fact that people are willing to stand up, even against adversity,” he reflected. “I think the people who are donating really see it as a chance to be molded by the Holy Spirit. ... We’re being emboldened.”

To other parishes looking for ways to reach out during the pandemic, Siedlecki had these words of encouragement: “Be bold. Be open to where the Holy Spirit moves you, and don’t let fear stop you from taking chances. … You can just see the joy in [volunteers’] eyes when they can be a part of something bigger than themselves.”