CORALVILLE — Youths dashed from store to store at Coral Ridge Mall the evening of Dec. 11 with a mission of buying gifts. It didn’t matter that they didn’t know the recipients personally; they just wanted to give in-need families a chance to have a merry Christmas.
For more than five years, junior high and high school youths from St. Thomas More Parish-Coralville have been a major factor in making the annual Hills Christmas Party in Hills a success. The Christmas party took place Dec. 21 and provided gifts for Iowa City-area families who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford them. The party serves about 100 families annually, with St. Thomas More providing gifts for about one-third of those families.
“There is nothing like serving families right in our own community,” said Hills Christmas Party organizer Laura Westemeyer, a member of St. Joseph Parish-Hills. “If the children go back to school and see what friends got and they have nothing, it’s hard for them.”
Families fill out a Christmas list that is given to donors. St. Thomas More Youth Minister Michelle Montgomery said the lists often include necessities such as socks, shoes, coats and clothes. She said the parish youths are often surprised by the requests. “It was a real eye-opener for some of the youths to recognize that we have people in need right in our back door.”
Eight-grader Nola Murhammer said, “I get so many gifts for Christmas and I never thought that someone else may get none. The things they want for Christmas are what I would consider every-day things.”
Nola, along with 57 youths and adult chaperones, used donations from parishioners to purchase 116 gifts. After shopping, they wrapped the new presents, along with gifts parishioners had previously purchased, in the mall food court.
Onlookers who were curious about what the youths were doing donated an additional $70 that evening, Montgomery said. It was a gesture that caused her and other volunteers to cry tears of gratitude. “They thanked us for being Christmas angels … the outpouring of generosity was so incredible.”
Tenth-grader Clare Dunne said, “It was super amazing to experience this Christmas gift of giving. I saw a whole community come together to give to others in the holiday spirit. It made me feel extremely grateful for everything I have and it made want to help many more people!”
Jake Greenlee, a ninth-grader, said being a sort-of “secret Santa” was a great experience. “During the Christmas season, it is important to remember why gifts are given and remember that it is a season of giving! To really embody the Christmas spirit, we as Catholics always need to give others our love and strength and worth at all times. Helping others who are less fortunate is just one way to give to others our love of Jesus. I really enjoyed this experience.”
Westemeyer said she appreciates the youths’ involvement in making the Hills Christmas Party possible each year. “They’ve done an amazing job. They’re totally a cornerstone of this project.”