97 needy families and children to receive gifts from Heart of Christmas program

Sunday, December 18, 2016                                                                                                 Jim Davis – Florida Catholic

MIAMI | Some people need a merry Christmas more than most.
Like a man trying to support his wife and two children on temporary jobs.
Or an immigrant family who shares a house with another family.
Or a mother of three who is being sheltered from an abusive husband.
Or an elderly woman who can no longer afford to live in her apartment.
Those and other stories may have, if not a happy ending, at least a holiday respite — via the archdiocesan Heart of Christmas benefit.
Now in its fifth year, Heart of Christmas reaches out to some of the most needy in South Florida, based on the recommendations of pastors, principals or directors of archdiocesan ministries. This year’s 97 recipients will receive a total of $32,700.
Fifty families will receive $500 American Express gift cards, with 29 other families getting $250 AMEX cards. Also benefiting will be 18 children in the archdiocese’s Unaccompanied Minors Program; each will receive a $25 gift card from Target stores.
The sums show sizable growth from December 2012, the first year of the program. That year, 40 families received $20,000 worth of gift cards.
Recipients were nominated by parishes and schools across the archdiocese — from St. Mary Star of the Sea, Key West, to Gesu in downtown Miami, to St. Anthony in Fort Lauderdale, to Mary Help of Christians in Parkland.
Nor are they mere beneficiaries — many also serve their parishes, including:
A single mother who sings in a choir along with her two daughters.
A couple who work part-time jobs and still serve as lectors during Mass.
A Haitian-American who sings in a choir while her son serves as an altar server.
An unemployed older woman who volunteers for her local St. Vincent de Paul Society.
An elderly woman who serves as an extraordinary minister of Communion despite dealing with chronic illness.
A woman who cares for her dying mother — and waters plants and picks up trash around her church.
Each gift card will be addressed to the recipient family, along with a note from Archbishop Thomas Wenski. Then the gifts will be sent to the recipients’ parishes for distribution.
Funding for Heart of Christmas comes from the archdiocesan Anniversary Gala, a fundraising event held every five years for teaching and social outreach purposes.
The last gala, held in 2013 at the Miami Hilton, took the theme of “A Church for the Poor” — a quote from Pope Francis as he took office that year.
Gifts from Heart of Christmas may be small, but they can make all the difference at Christmastime, said Katie Blanco, chief development officer for the archdiocese. She said her office often gets thank-you notes — some with Christmas cards, some with photos of families with tearful smiles.
“The goal is not long-term assistance — that’s for parishes and St. Vincent de Paul societies and other programs,” Blanco said. “But Christmas is a season of giving and a time for celebrating Jesus’ birthday. And a gift can bring hope.
“God gave us the greatest gift we will ever receive, the gift of Jesus Christ,” she added. “We celebrate that gift by giving. That’s the Heart of Christmas.”