KEOKUK — For the Ladies of Charity who give grocery vouchers and Christmas baskets to hundreds of people each year, the effort is about respecting the dignity of those who get help, according to member Lisa Riegel.
“You give them gifts you’d want to receive,” she said. “A lot of thought goes into it.”
For example, foods donated in the Christmas baskets include small chickens that recipients without a working oven could boil or microwave. Other gifts include toys made to last and homemade cookies for people who may not have the money to buy baking utensils, Riegel said.
But for decades, the main effort of the only Ladies of Charity group in Iowa has been distributing grocery vouchers to families in need. Today the group spends about $1,000 a month giving out $25 vouchers for Country Market in Keokuk, said Lois Waldron. She is a former president of the 99-year-old Keokuk chapter, which she said she has belonged to for 45 years and includes about 50 active members.
Residents of Keokuk, Hamilton, Ill. and Missouri have come to her family’s bakery, Stan’s Pastry Shop in downtown Keokuk, where she distributes the vouchers that recipients may take once every four months. Funds come mostly from Church of All Saints Parish in Keokuk and from the trust funds of a couple local Catholic families who support the effort, Waldron said. The United Way also has contributed.
Some recipients are working poor; others are grandparents caring for children whose parents are in prison or who lost custody, Riegel said. During a 10-month lockout that ended last summer at the corn-milling plant Roquette America Inc., workers came to the Ladies of Charity for help, Waldron said.
Food stamps don’t always get a family through the month, Riegel noted. And when children are in school, a few dollars for a field trip or art project adds up when a person lives on a tight income.
That’s why some people who sign up for Christmas baskets tear up when receiving them, she said. “They’ll say, ‘I wouldn’t have Christmas without this.’ The toys for their kids especially mean so much because that’s one thing they don’t have money to buy.”
Last year, the group gave out 170 baskets filled with chicken, ham, milk, cheese, fresh fruit, potatoes, crackers, beans and a $10 Walgreens gift card. In addition to the Ladies of Charity members who bake cookies to give away, one woman makes afghans for older recipients, Waldron said.
Waldron’s family benefited from similar generosity after her father died – two months before she was born. “I remember how thrilled we were when we’d get a Christmas basket,” she said of herself, her mother and her siblings.
Riegel said it’s rewarding to see the good done by the Ladies of Charity, whose motto is “To serve rather than be served.” “These women are very dedicated to what they do,” she said.
“It’s very inspiring.”
Ladies of Charity history
The Keokuk chapter was founded in 1913 by Father Gillespie and Sister Margaret, according to the group. It is part of an international organization founded by St. Vincent de Paul in 1617 in France, where members responded to the needs of the poor. In 1960, the Ladies of Charity USA became a national organization. It seeks “every opportunity to make Christ present by serving the material and spiritual needs of the sick, the poor, and the marginalized of our society,” according to the website http://aic.ladiesofcharity.us.