By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
KEOKUK — Each Advent season, St. Vincent School and All Saints Parish team up with Keokuk Ladies of Charity to provide Christmas baskets to 165 less-fortunate families in the area.
“It’s all in the spirit of Christmas to help those in need,” said Colleen Gredell, St. Vincent fourth-grade and religion teacher and Ladies of Charity member.
The local chapter of Ladies of Charity, a Catholic-affiliated service organization, spearheads the project. During the months of November and December, the Catholic school and parish collect nonperishable food items to go in the baskets. The parish has a “brown bag” program, in which parishioners fill a brown bag at the church with food items and new or used toys. At the elementary school, students may bring these types of items in exchange for permission to wear jeans on Friday, Gredell said.
After taking inventory of school and church donations, Ladies of Charity then use $8,000-$10,000 in grants and donations to purchase remaining food items and toys needed for the baskets, said president Madonna Kirchner. The organization does not actively fundraise; she said community members are supportive of the project and come to them first.
These baskets contain two whole chickens, a 4-pound boneless ham, one gallon of milk, fresh fruit, margarine, canned and other nonperishable foods, a $10 gift card and other items that might have been donated. New toys are included in the baskets, depending on the ages of the children in the household.
Kirchner said the baskets can take care of about a week’s worth of grocery needs for the recipients’ families. Used toys, along with food items that are not packaged, are placed on a table the day of pick up, so the families can take whatever additional items they may need.
As Ladies of Charity does not have a brick and mortar location, persons interested in receiving a basket sign up at Stan’s Pastry Shop in Keokuk, which is Kirchner’s place of business. As was the case when Kirchner’s late mother Lois Waldron was president of both the business and Ladies of Charity, recipients do not have to prove economic status. “Who are we to judge if someone comes knocking?
That was my mom’s philosophy.”
Students and Ladies of Charity members prepared the baskets for pickup Dec. 12-14 in the St. Vincent School cafeteria. Gredell said it is a special time for the students to partake in “the real meaning of Christmas and the importance of being there for those in need and doing what you can to help. …It’s living your faith!”
Kirchner said the students are a godsend and an essential part of the process. “I just think it’s a wonderful experience to let them know there are a lot less fortunate people out there.”
About Ladies of Charity
The Keokuk chapter was founded in 1913, 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.