St. Joseph's 'alternative' Christmas market offers gifts of lasting value SOUTHEAST -- Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber

December 07, 1992|By Maureen Rice | Maureen Rice,Contributing Writer

"Bah! Humbug!"

The vast commercial operation code-named Christmas has finally gotten under your skin. Is there any meaning to all of this madness? Does anyone really need another tie? Aren't there more important things in life?

Yes, Virginia, there really is a meaning in Christmas.

"The Alternative Christmas Program was to encourage us to make God present to each other," said Sister Dolores of St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Sykesville.

To further this aim, with an eye to harried schedules and a feeling of helplessness in the face of a multitude of social problems, the "Alternative Christmas Program" was born.

"We wanted to take the craziness out of Christmas," said Sister Dolores.

"This alternative Christmas market allows parishioners to give something from their hearts to their families, which helps the needy," said Dana Jeskiewicz, who helped to organize the event. "It allows us to practice the true spirit of Christmas."

Fifteen charitable organizations gathered at St. Joseph's Saturday and yesterday to present to parishioners a meaning for Christmas.

Representatives of Child Foresters of Guatemala encouraged donations to pay children to plant and tend trees to replace those destroyed by farming. The young trees will help to rebuild the rain forest, and the money will enable the children to pay for school tuition.

There were representatives of Western Maryland Interface Housing, an amalgamation of church groups whose goal is to help needy families to build -- or pay for -- decent housing in which to live and raise children.

There was the Catholic Charities-Oil, who sell heating oil to low-income families in the Baltimore area based on ability to pay.

The representatives of charities worldwide were collected to offer an alternative to the more commercial aspects of the season.

"It's nice," said parishioner Lynn Check, "to be able to donate to a group and know that this will help someone else, and to then give a card to someone saying a donation has been made in your honor."

Donations were not the only focus of the market. Representatives were glad to explain how anyone could help their efforts.

"When I retire I think I'll start my second career," said Richard Horwitt, a lay person at St. Joseph's, "and go down to Lima [Peru] to help with the school." Mr. Horwitt was referring to a school started and run by the Marianist Brothers to teach young people electronics and good business practices.

"I was there a few years ago," said Mr. Horwitt, "and the children were wonderful. I went downtown [in Lima] with some of the kids, and it was as though we were the kids and they were the parents -- they watched out for us crossing the streets and negotiated the prices on items we bought."

The Marianist school was just one of the Third World assistance charities represented. The school, which enables students to run their own business or to work for a large corporation, charges $80 per semester tuition to cover books, computers and other tools.

"Eighty dollars doesn't sound like much to us, but the average family income down there is only $38 a month," Mr. Horwitt said.

Several of the charitable groups were to assist parishioners of St. Joseph's. "We're raising money to give to parishioners in need of medical assistance which they can't afford," said Dana Jeskiewicz, "particularly the elderly on limited incomes, who might otherwise be forced to purchase only two of the pills prescribed instead of the whole bottle."

Another group, the Environmental Concerns Committee, is raising money to purchase dinnerware. Seated behind a poster reading "Save God's Forests" (the word "our" crossed out and changed to "God's") was Lisa Foltz, who said the porcelain dinnerware and silverware would be used by the church during its activities to replace the plastics and other disposable items now in use. "This is a new thing," said Ms. Foltz. "Our goal is to purchase 300 place settings."

Using the washable place settings will keep much plastic out of the overcrowded landfills each year.

Parishioners received pamphlets describing the goals and activities of each of the organizations, along with a "shopping list" that enabled them to specify which organizations they wished to donate time or money to and to use one check to cover all donations.

"We tally the lists and deposit the moneys and give each group one check," said Sister Dolores.

The individual groups provided cards describing the group's activities and gift cards for donors wishing to make gifts in honor of family and friends. "I loved it," said Trish Barrow, filling out her "shopping list." "There's a real sense of community in here."

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