St. Catherine's youth gather local community to build 'blessing bags' for homeless
By Kaitlin Kowalec | Correspondent
With hopes of compiling a few hundred bags of necessities for local homeless, the youth ministry of St. Catherine Laboure Parish, Middletown, more than tripled expectations.
On May 8, the young people partnered with the nonprofit Blessing Bag Brigade to help the less fortunate. They were joined by parish ministries such as the Rosary Altar Society and Vacation Bible School, as well as groups from the community at large.
Photo Gallery: Youth help organize 'blessing bags'
The goal for the evening was to put together “blessing bags” that contain simple necessities such as lotion, socks, soaps and water, which will be distributed to homeless around the Jersey Shore and New York areas in the weeks to come. The event produced 1,061 bags – hundreds more than initially intended.
“We really wanted to reach out to everyone in the community to create a positive social justice experience for our end-of-the year service project,” said Theresa Gibilisco, parish youth ministry coordinator. “In today’s world, everyone is so busy, everyone’s always running, that you don’t always have a chance to come together for the common good. It’s a great opportunity for everybody to spend time with people they might not normally see, in order to help people they don’t know who are in need.”
As live music played in the background, there was clear teamwork in the parish hall. Everyone had a job to do, whether it was bringing in the donations or sorting through items. All of the items had been collected over the course of 10 days by the youth, parishioners and the Blessing Bag Brigade; community organizations such as the Boy and Girl Scouts and Hibernians, among others, had also collected on their own prior to the event.
“We all want to help one another,” said Julie Zamor, 13, of the parish youth ministry. “There’s more people on this earth than just one person, so it’s better to share what we have rather than let products go to waste, especially when there are people out there who need them.”
An introduction about the Blessing Bag Brigade’s mission by its founder, Kevin Garrison, kicked off the construction portion of the night. “You can’t ask God for small favors. Each month we deliver around 1,500 bags, so tonight makes a lot of difference.”
From kids and teens, to young adults and seniors, all worked in an assembly-line style, grabbing a bag and going to different tables to place one of each item in their bags.
“It’s nice to see how the effect of one little bag can ripple into such a greater outcome,” said youth ministry member Angela Gibilisco, 16. “It’s such a small act of kindness for a big problem, but it’s easy to work together with such a tight-knit community to get so much done for those who need our help.”
Like the loaves and fishes, there seemed an abundance of items and an abundance of bags. However, once any single item ran out, it meant an end to the bagging and a start to the counting. As bag construction ceased, the leftover items were counted into bags of 50 for the Blessing Bag Brigade to bring with them to the classrooms they visit as starters to new bags.
“Our motto is showing compassion and humanitarianism to those in need, and that’s what tonight was all about, people coming together for others,” Garrison said. “Especially when you get the kids involved and expose them to service at a young age, and they realize that this is something they can do that’s fun and helps people, they’ll stick with it for life.”
Said parishioner Isabella Rivera, 10, “I’m happy that we can help people who are less fortunate, because working together can make something bigger than what it started out to be.”