‘Service Sendout’ highlights almsgiving in early Lent

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Pillars of Lent: Almsgiving

(CNS illustration; photo by Bob Roller)

“Almsgiving” is the one Lenten pillar that hardly rolls off the tongue, a Catholic News Service writer put in a February article. With a little forethought, however, almsgiving can be very easy to execute. In just seven days, some 100 Catholics at St. Benedict Parish practiced acts of charity that impacted at least nine organizations, plus individuals in need outside of them.

The Service Sendout Feb. 23-29 helped parishioners model the Lenten pillar of almsgiving, particularly via acts of charity. The Church also considers donating money — like many do via the Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl — and goods a means of almsgiving, or “a witness to fraternal charity” that is “a work of justice pleasing to God.”

“This year, we decided to challenge everyone to direct service, modeling Jesus in relationship,” said Heather Mooney, coordinator of Children’s Faith Formation.

It was a revamped effort that began five years ago for confirmation-minded third-graders looking for service opportunities. Mooney found that many organizations had higher age restrictions for their volunteers. When the church held what was then a “Service Saturday” for those confirmation candidates, leaders discovered Catholics of all ages wanted to join in. It quickly grew to welcome them.

Despite the name, this year’s “Service Sendout” also embraced those who couldn’t get out due to personal health, travel ability or another conflict.

“We realize there are people who are older or who don’t travel far or (whose) work schedules don’t permit the times allotted,” to volunteer, Mooney said. Those parishioners had a handful of other ways to get involved.

St. Benedict parishioners donated this citrus simply from trees in their own yards/neighborhoods. (courtesy photo)

Parishioners brought 700 pounds of extra citrus from their yard to Mass which was donated to St. Mary’s Food Bank. Others had the option of organizing a neighborhood trash pickup or sewing a travel bag for foster children. Still others made “no sew” fleece blankets for Furnishing Dignity, a charity that helps formerly homeless families and foster youth establish home essentials, while others created hygiene kits for homeless families the parish will shelter over night during their hosting week through Family Promise this month.

Activities that required travel and two to three hours of time included the urban farm and dream center at St. Vincent de Paul’s main campus, reading to children at UMOM, which offers shelter and affordable housing for families and singing at a senior care center. Volunteers at Arizona Animal Welfare League did a variety of support activities, and those at the Kyrene School District’s Family Resource Center sorted donations.

St. Benedict volunteers read books to and with children at UMOM, a homeless shelter, during the early days of Lent. (courtesy photo)

“We go through the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching and try to incorporate places where we can serve. We also looked at different ways to serve. We tried to incorporate our God-given gifts,” Mooney said. “To me, it’s about inspiring people to find where their gifts are.”

As much as possible, the ability to have direct interaction with those served was also important.

“It’s easy to serve when we don’t have to look people in the eye,” Mooney said.

Little do younger parishioners know, they might be looking their struggling neighbors in the eye every day at school. Hundreds of area students are considered homeless. There are 600 families in the database of Kyrene’s Family Resource Center. The outreach started after a school administrator discovered a pattern of alternating sibling absences was because the children were sharing the same pair of shoes. Families can take home a food box, clothing item and hygiene item once per month. Toilet paper is the most requested item.

St. Benedict parishioners tour the Family Resource Center serving Kyrene School District families Feb. 26 before sorting additional donations. The effort was part of a week-long “Service Sendout” that invited Catholics to personally embrace the Lenten pillar of almsgiving via hands-on service. Opportunities for all ages both at an organization or from home were available. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

“A lot of them are overwhelmed. People are just overwhelmed with joy knowing they can dress their kids,” said Irma Horton, who runs the resource center and happens to split her time between two area parishes.

Waleska Soto and her two teens helped sort food, clothing and book donations at the resource center Ash Wednesday alongside more than a dozen parishioners. Soto said her son, Paulo, who is 13, loves community service activities, so she jumped at the chance to do one as a family.

“Sometimes you don’t realize that there’s people in need in your community,” Soto said.