Three days before a snow storm encased central Pennsylvania in nearly two feet of snow, teenagers with the Diocesan Youth Council spread some warm holiday cheer to several dozen guests of the Cathedral Parish’s Sunday evening meal in Harrisburg.
Stationed behind tables stacked with Christmas gifts, cookies and hot chocolate, the teens offered the presents and treats to nearly 50 men and women on Dec. 13.
The boxes and bags – packed and wrapped by DYC members several weeks prior to the distribution – were stuffed with hats, gloves, personal care items, hand-sewn masks, hand sanitizer, toothbrushes and candy. The items were generously donated by local businesses and members of the Diocesan staff through a collection at the Diocesan Center in Harrisburg.
The gift distribution was offered in conjunction with the Cathedral Parish’s meal program, which hands out take-home dinners on Sunday evenings and take-home breakfasts on Saturday mornings.
“We try to do something every year to give back to the community,” Ava Smith said of the Diocesan Youth Council’s activities. “Someone had heard about the meal distribution at the Cathedral, and it sparked the idea to offer a service project there.”
Ava, a member of Holy Name of Jesus Parish and a student at Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg, said this year’s service project took on added meaning due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“There have been many things cancelled because of coronavirus and it’s hard to get together with people. When we do a project like this, we realize that even though we’ve been affected by the pandemic, we are seeing that there are a lot of people who are in a very serious need right now,” she said.
Fellow third-year DYC member Marian Joseph agreed.
“Especially with the pandemic, I think this project will have even more of an impact, not just to make people happy with a gift, but to give them things they really need at this time. We’ve all been struggling in some way with the pandemic, but there are others who have a great need for basic items,” said Marian, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Lancaster and a student at Lancaster Catholic High School.
The Cathedral Parish’s meal program has been an ongoing project for years. To meet Covid safety protocols, the program transitioned to a take-out distribution several months ago, said Daniel Reisteter program volunteer.
Meals are packed into bags and distributed outside. They include a sandwich, fruit, snack, dessert and a bottle of water.
“We used to offer a sit-down meal before the pandemic. The guests would come and sit around the table for an hour, enjoy beverages and talk. We now simplify things that we can serve to-go, and we try to give them a balanced meal with a main entrée of a protein,” he said.
The program serves 90-120 guests on Saturday mornings, and upwards of 60 people on Sunday evenings,
“As word gets out, I think the numbers will increase, especially as we move into winter and with the economy and people out of work,” Reisteter said.
“We were so pleased that the DYC came here this evening to give out hot chocolate and gifts. It’s a special blessing for our guests this time of year,” he said.
Guests at this weekend’s breakfast will also be presented with gifts.
The Diocesan Youth Council is an opportunity for high school youth to serve in active leadership roles within the Diocese. Students wishing to serve on the Diocese Youth Council must be nominated by their parish, Catholic high school, or Diocesan Committee on Catholic Scouting each year. The DYC begins a new year every fall.
Members act as a communication link between their parish/school and the Diocesan Office for Youth and Young Adult Ministry, and attend meetings and events that aim to deepen their faith.
“It’s been nice to represent youth in the Diocese, and get other kids engaged in the Church and service,” said Ava. “It’s fun, and a great way to represent who we are in the Church today.”
For more information about the DYC and how to join, visit the DYC link at www.hbgdiocese.org/youth-and-young-adults/.
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness