Giving Back


In my reflection of November on Thursday, I talked a bit about gratitude. Today, while many are going to enjoy fall activities of seeing families, playing or watching football, catching up on reading, applepicking, and other fall favorites, and getting ready for Thanksgiving, I will be at my church, and have been since about seven-thirty in the morning for our second annual morning of service.

At last count, we have over three hundred volunteers who will be helping out at nursing homes, Habitat for Humanity, the local city mission, day cares, and creating projects at the church to be given out to a variety of places like Ronald McDonald House, Operation Christmas Child, and other local charities.

There are many ways that we all give back for what we are lucky enough to have. We donate clothes, food, money, and time in all kinds of ways.

One organization that has helped my family and many, many others is the St. Vincent de Paul Society with the Catholic Church. If you want to donate money, time, or items, contact your local  Catholic Church, and ask them how.

A second organization that comes highly recommended to me is Catholic Charities.

In many cases, you do not have to be Catholic to utilize their services, and you most definitely do not need to be Catholic to donate to them.

My favorite group to help and support is Random Acts. They are the epitome of teaching that each of us can do a little, and it all adds up. Small gestures mean big things to many.

This year, in particular, I would recommend Hispanic Federation. They take care of all kinds of needs, but especially this year, they are doing important work for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Help them if you can.

And if you can’t help these groups directly, please share their names and contact information on your social media accounts so that others may help if they are able.

Thank you for all that you do.

A Thanksgiving Reflection


Cornucopia. Colored Pencils. (c)2016

Today is the first Thanksgiving Mass that I will be able to attend. I’ve looked forward to it. There is a tradition at my parish to bring a non-perishable food item to donate. 

At the time of the offering, instead of passing a basket around the pews for a monetary collection, parishioners process to the altar and leave food items. It was a really profound experience, everyone giving what they could, wishing the others a Happy Thanksgiving when they passed one another.

At the end of the Mass, each family was given a small loaf of bread to bring to mind the Eucharist we had just received to share with our families. Breaking bread is a tradition followed by nearly every culture across the globe.

Our parish has a very active St. Vincent de Paul Society who collect food for Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets for those that request them. They also provide Christmas gifts to those less fortunate so that the kids will still have a memorable holiday. They also work throughout the year. They ask for nothing in return. My son and I volunteered one year to help load the Thanksgiving boxes/baskets and it was an exuberant, lively, joyous crowd, bending and lifting, filling boxes and organizing food and household items like paper towels and toilet paper. One of the things that amazes me when I see the men and women volunteering for the Society is the compassion and positivity they come to their ministry with.
I am still surprised when I do something for someone else with no expectation of reward, although every time I’ve volunteered or done something extra or special, I have received a reward: a smile, a thank you, but most importantly, a swelling of my soul that feels so much better than receiving a gift myself.

We all want acknowledgment for our good deeds. It doesn’t have to be much; a simple thank you or smile will suffice. But seeing a child with a huge smile as they receive a winter coat or a pair of boots or sneakers. An extra pudding or lollipop. Bright eyes shining with joy.

During the homily, which was of course very G-d centered, it made me recall the first thanksgiving. Not the holiday proclaimed by President Lincoln, but the very first one. While both the Pilgrims and the Native Americans had their beliefs and would have expresed their gratitude to, there was also much more to that day and fall season for them. Today should be a reminder of that cooperation, the beginning of that friendship. The Native people welcomed the new immigrants, refugees even, from religious persecution. There was the language barrier and the difference in customs, but they muddled through.

And we can all muddle through with the challenges we’ve been given and thankful for the blessings we receive.

Thanksgiving is a good reminder to look around and smell the flowers. Take a little extra moment to look at your family as they’re playing with cousins, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, taking a hike or playing in the snow, and sitting around the table, passing dishes that we’ve eaten every year since forever in our families.

I make my friend’s sweet potato pie or a sweet potato casserole.

I make my grandmother’s green bean casserole, which is really French’s recipe. My grandmother always made it without milk to keep it kosher in her house.

We rely on 1950s convenience: Heinz gravy, DelMonte French style green beans, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. We make mashed potatoes from scratch, but my mother used to use a box mix of potato flakes. My sister’s husband would only eat mashed from scratch. He never noticed the difference. (I’d leave a few lumps in it for him.)

Think about what you’re grateful for and try to remember it the rest of the year. One way is with a gratitude journal. Or a jar to add slips of paper to for the year. I did this one year, and it was a joy to sit on New Year’s Eve and read through that last year of good moments. Whatever you come up with, find something that works for you and your life.

This year had some really difficult times for our family, and we’re still struggling with them: my mother-in-law’s death this summer and the election of Donald Trump as our new president, at best a wariness as we wait to see how his administration forms. I already have some issues, but this is not the forum. Suffice it to say, we are all waiting to see where we go from here, and we should all be praying for our next president and our country. I would encourage that to be the first thing we do.

If I learned anything from this past Year of Mercy, it is that mercy is everywhere; we just need to simply accept it when it’s given or found.

For my part in being aware of my blessings and my gratitude, I will be planning on incorporating a gratefullness to a weekly writing blurb.

In the meantime, I look to my family, my extended family, my friends, my church, and my support network to continue moving forward in my writing and my life.

I will spend tomorrow being grateful for what I have and how far I’ve come.

Bless you all on this day of thanks.

Lenten Almsgiving


While the use of the word Almsgiving has fallen out of the modern vernacular, it is still to be found in religious language and one of the three tenets to be acknowledged during Lent along with fasting and prayer. Many of us give money to our churches and temples and a variety of other charitable organizations, but how many of us specifically give alms to the poor?

In the nearby city, there are several soup kitchens, homeless shelters, a city mission, and poor boxes in a variety of church denominations. Unless we are involved int he day to day lives of the poor, we do not always see the needs.  We leave it to our friends and neighbors. Much of this is without thought. Whenever I pass someone asking for money on the road, my first inclination is to roll down my window and give something to them.

Unfortunately, in this electronic world of debit cards, I rarely have any cash in my pocket.

One of the groups that is organized out of my church (and out of many churches across the country) is the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Even before I was a member of my parish, they helped me many times, including with money for a much needed hot water heater. When I went to them it was for advice, perhaps they had a suggestion of a reliable company to use or one that offered the group a discount. I had not expected money towards the heater even though we desperately needed financial assistance. We’re one of hundreds of families who request and are given help throughout the year with both money, food, and resources. Contact your local society or go through your local Diocese’s website for ways to reach them and contribute, not just money, but time as well.

Every year, despite our own monetary shortcomings, I try to give back a. little bit towards them.

Also at the top of my list is our local volunteer fire department. This is not necessarily an alms in the traditional sense of the word, used for the poor, but our local firefighters do not get paid and they come out to help with fires and medical emergencies whenever they are called, no matter the weather or time of day (or night).

Places where I try to send my money when I have it follow below. Please add your own suggestions and charities in the comments to make us aware of what opportunities are out there for us to donate to.

Don’t forget – you can donate more than money. Many charities are looking for clothes, household items, baby items, school supplies, and your time and talent. As the organization before you drop things off so you can make sure that they need what you’d like to give them. Items should definitely be in good, working order and be clean. Imagine if you were receiving this item.


Almshouses in Llanrwst, North Wales built by Sir John Wynn in 1610 as seen from the entrance at Ancaster Square


View of the alley of Almshouses in Llanrwst, North Wales as viewed from St. Gwrst Parish Church and the Afon Conwy

Random Acts
American Red Cross

The Trevor Project

Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation

Human Rights Campaign

Food Pantry


Just a quick word of advice and one that I don’t always think of.

I spent this morning helping to fill Christmas food baskets with my church’s St. Vincent de Paul Society. I am one of the people who benefits directly from this group, and I wanted to give back something.

I was in charge of cake mixes and corn bread.

I almost never check expiration dates. Not at the grocery store, not in my own pantry. I assume it’s good, and if it’s slightly outdated it’s still not bad. I mean, I tell my husband all the time that you could use the cans fro WWII. He does not agree. However, if something expired nine months ago, it’s fine.

It really is.


when you’re donating food to a food pantry or church, clearing out your unwanteds is a win-win for everyone, but please, please check the expiration dates.

A group like this can’t give out expired food.

For one thing, many people receiving the basket from the food pantry probably won’t check the dates. (I wouldn’t.)

I threw out about ten or so boxes of food because of the dates. Most had expired in 2012/2013, but I had two older than that – one from 2008 and one from 2004.

There are many ways to donate. One is buy a couple of extra boxes/cans on sale when you’re doing your regular grocery shopping. Another is donating money. Most of us can’t afford to give away a lot, but every dollar adds up, and if you put it in an envelope and mark it for the food pantry, it really is appreciated. (In our case, families with children get three $15 gift cards to the local supermarket chain. Some families this year received a coupon for a free 14 pound turkey from another chain.

Our group had 125 families from three churches receiving food and Christmas gifts. They made three extra food baskets for surprise walk-ins. Any leftover food goes down to the city’s food pantry. Then they start collecting again.

More and more this is a need that people request all throughout the year, not just at the holidays, so it’s never too early or too late to donate as long as the expiration dates are far enough in the future.

Before we started, we are reminded of why we’re there: as Christians, we are called to act as Christ would, and helping the poor is at the top of that list. We then start our morning off with the Lord’s Prayer