Giving the gift of time

Categories: Around the Diocese

Thousands of volunteers bring Christmas cheer

Dec. 20, 2013, edition
By Sue Schulzetenberg-Gully

For Mary Kuhn of Sacred Heart Parish in Glenwood, Christmas is about giving.

“That’s what Christmas is,” she said. “The whole gift-giving [concept for Christmas] came from the birth of Christ. He was our greatest gift.”



Giving, for her, is not just about shopping for the perfect gift for family members and friends. It is also about giving her time to help other families.

Kuhn and thousands of other volunteers across the St. Cloud Diocese, donate numerous hours to spread holiday cheer around Christmas time. Their efforts, community agencies say, are great blessings in making holiday projects possible.

Lisa Drew, who coordinates Share the Spirit for Catholic Charities of the St. Cloud Diocese, said, “We wouldn’t have the program without volunteers. To make these big things happen we rely on volunteers. I’m completely grateful for them.”

In the midst of the “busiest time of the year,” five dedicated volunteers shared their stories on spreading Christmas cheer.

For the kids

As the days before Christmas become fewer, Marv Binstock’s rounds to Toys for Tots drop off sites become more frequent.

“That’s when people are shopping for Christmas gifts,” said Binstock, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in St. Cloud.



Binstock picks up the toys from 25 sites in St. Cloud and brings them to Catholic Charities, which distributes them to families in need. He begins making the rounds early December and continues through Christmas. He picks up the toys about two to three times a week and sometimes more often.

“I enjoy helping the children and families in need,” said Binstock, commandant for local Marine Corps League Valhalla Detachment #171. “There’s a sense of gratitude in helping people.”

Toys for Tots are collected from 245 sites in St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids, Sartell, Rice, Waite Park, Kimball, Watkins and Eden Valley. In 2012, toys collected totaled 22,687, benefiting 4,022 local children.

Binstock volunteered with Toys for Tots about six years ago because of his involvement in the Marine Corps. Toys for Tots is a community action program of Marine Corps nationwide.

Binstock plans on helping with the program for as long as he is able.

“It’s to help the families that can’t afford it so every kid can have gifts for Christmas,” said Binstock joyfully. “We help them out.”



Helping the community

This year Spencer Linn turned an idea into reality.

Linn, a junior at Albany High School, saw flyers that advertised bell ringing for the Salvation Army in another city.

Thinking of the possibilities in Albany, he thought “Why don’t we bring it here?”

“I wanted to help the families and individuals of our community,” he said.

Linn, 16, works at Amby’s Foods in Albany, and he thought the grocery store would be the perfect place to set up a bell-ringing station. After talking to Amby’s owners and a few phone calls to organizers at Salvation Army, Linn had the equipment ready for bell-ringing.

The Salvation Army appointed Linn coordinator for its Red Kettle Campaign at Amby’s. He schedules volunteers, keeps tabs on money raised and gives the donations to a collection person.

“It’s fun to organize the schedule and be a part of the community,” Linn said.

A member of St. Benedict Parish in Avon, Linn said his Catholic upbringing played a part in teaching him to think about others. Projects such as CRS Rice Bowl and the giving tree organized at his parish stressed the value of giving.

Before agreeing to help with the Red Kettle Campaign, Linn made sure proceeds would benefit the community locally. Funds raised stay in rural Stearns County, helping with such things as providing emergency rent, utilities, groceries, car repairs and school supplies.

Almost 100 people have volunteered so far for the Red Kettle Campaign in Albany, raising approximately $1,400 to date.

Linn said that there is something special about Christmas time that inspires people to donate.

“It’s that feeling around Christmas where you want everyone to feel the way you do,” Linn said.

He is happy he brought the kettle campaign to Albany and grateful for the volunteers and patrons. He finds helping out around Christmas time to be very rewarding.

He said, “It gives you that great feeling you did something and played a part in giving someone a better Christmas.”

Anonymous giving

Every fall Jeanne Schmitz of Assumption Parish in Eden Valley, assists with a wish list from people she never met and likely never will.



The wish list comes to the parish from Catholic Charities for the Share the Spirit program. Families in need are referred and fill out an application to participate.

Many of the requests on the wish lists are for basic needs, like socks and underwear, but some are for more fun things, like dolls and quilting supplies.

Schmitz has been helping to coordinate the project at Assumption for 10 or so years. She usually notified parishioners of the project through the parish bulletin.

This year, she worked with Sherry Braegelmann and Dorothy Brutger to make tags for each item and hung the tags on a tree in the church.

“That way people could pick out what they wanted to donate and how much they wanted to spend,” Schmitz said.

Some parishioners bought the items on the tags; others donated money. With the money, Schmitz and Brutger along with Mary Tessmer and Mary Jo Ruhland took Assumption parish youth shopping to purchase the remaining items.

“It gives our youth the satisfaction that they’re helping,” Schmitz said. “It’s a rewarding feeling you get. Your reward is in the fact you’re helping out and making someone’s Christmas a little more special.”

After shopping, the youths had a pizza party and wrapped the gifts. Schmitz and her husband, Larry, brought the gifts to the armory in St. Cloud for distribution.

“The goal is to teach the younger generation the value of giving and doing corporal works of mercy,” Schmitz said. “And teaching and practicing corporal works of mercy yourself.”

The meaning of Christmas

A pageant is a good way to teach the meaning of Christmas, says Mary Ihland, Christmas pageant coordinator for St. Thomas Parish in Kent.



The Dec. 15 program at St. Thomas marked the beginning of the 18th or so Christmas program Ihland coordinated for the parish. “Just A Little Christmas” told the Christmas story from the Annunciation to the return to Nazareth.

Ihland started coordinating the Christmas program when her son was in first grade. At the time, she thought that bringing a pageant to the parish would help children learn the meaning of Christmas.

Ihland searches for a new script every year, often finding one on the internet.

She looks for a short piece so children can learn it quickly. The program always includes the Christmas story.

“We tell the story of the Nativity in different ways,” she said. “I thought that would be a good lesson.”

Ihland visits the religious education classes to teach children the songs before their big rehearsal. They learn the play in one three-hour rehearsal the day before the production. Ihland plays the piano and directs. Parents and religious education instructors assist.

“I really enjoy seeing their faces when they’re practicing,” Ihland said. “They want to do a good job. They are watching me so closely.” This year the production included about 20 children.

“When they’re there, they know the meaning of Christmas,” Ihland said. Every year about 80 people attend the performance. Faith formation students assist with the potluck following the performance.

“I love watching the parents in the crowd and you know everyone appreciated it,” Ihland said. “It’s nice seeing everyone working together. We do work together well.”

Christmas spirit

During the week of Dec. 8, Mary Kuhn spent about 35 hours at Sacred Heart Church in Glenwood.

Helping with Armful of Love, she sorted donations, bagged them and checked them off on a list. She also helped shop for items on the list that were not donated.

Armful of Love is coordinated through the Pope County Family Collaborative to help families in need at Christmas time.

Individuals, families and companies donate money, clothes, toys and other necessities for Armful of Love. Recipients can also receive holiday food packages.

“I’m overwhelmed at the generosity of people,” Kuhn said. “It’s a positive thing to see.”

Items are placed in drop-off boxes and brought to a common place for distribution, this year Sacred Heart Church.

About 500 volunteer hours were clocked in helping 140 families this year.

At Sacred Heart Church, items were sorted according to age. Volunteers fill a bag for each family, finding items for each member. On a designated day, the families pick up the bags.

Kuhn volunteers for other church projects around the year, but she thinks it is especially special to give the gift of time around Christmas.

“It’s rewarding for Christmas to do something for your spirit,” she said. “It really puts you in the Christmas spirit.”