BETTENDORF — More than 300 people had a merrier Christmas thanks to the generosity of parishioners of St. John Vianney Parish.
Jan Stevenson, youth minister and coordinator for the St. John Vianney Angel Program, said Christmas cards also were sent out to more than 700 people as part of the program.
For years the parish has participated in a continually expanding angel program that helps families from Bettendorf and Davenport. Parishioners who are involved in various agencies or schools provide the contacts to generate a list of individuals and families who are in need. Most parishes throughout the Diocese of Davenport have some form of an angel tree gift program.
Recipients in the 2009 program at St. John Vianney included families from Neil Armstrong School in Bettendorf, Pleasant Valley Junior High School in LeClaire, St. John Vianney, the city of Bettendorf, Davenport’s alternative high school and TAPP program, and Humility of Mary Housing, Scott Community College of Nursing and Vera French Mental Health Center in Davenport.
“St. John Vianney has supported the alternative high school and the TAPP program in Davenport for many years,” Stevenson said. “Father (Robert) McAleer’s sister is a teacher there so it’s a natural working relationship. We also have helped the Humility of Mary Housing program not just at Christmas but all through the year. Scott Community College of Nursing came about after my daughter, who was in the night nursing program at Scott, asked if we could help some of the students who were in real financial need. So that began our relationship with Scott nursing students.”
Many other parishioners suggest people in need as well.
“St. John Vianney is a very generous parish,” said Fr. McAleer, the pastor.
An e-mail snafu provides an example: Stevenson received one list of families in need at the last minute. “So we scrambled to get the cards written for the 75 people on the list on a Friday and by the Sunday 11 a.m. Mass every card had been picked up.” Parishioners also were asked to purchase gifts and get them to the parish ASAP — and they did. “Gifts started pouring in Sunday afternoon,” Stevenson said, and by the following Wednesday, they were delivered to the recipients by a group of volunteers.
So many people ask, “where do you get families and do they really need help?” Many requests are for items such as laundry and bath soaps, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste in addition to food.
“It’s hard for most people to understand that people are thrilled to receive a basket full of cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items. If you are on a tight fixed income, or if there is an illness that has prevented you from working, the last thing you want to spend money on is cleaning supplies and hygiene items,” Stevenson said.
St. John Vianney also provided two baby beds, one toddler bed and one twin bed. Other requests were for bikes, microwave ovens, strollers, car seats, diapers, formula, clothing, toys, boots, shoes, coats, cleaning supplies and gift cards.
“We try to give gift cards to each family, a basket of cleaning supplies and soaps, as well as the other things on their list.
“Families are so appreciative and many are overwhelmed when they come to pick up their gifts,” she noted. “This is one of the most rewarding ministries anyone could be involved in.”