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Giving More than Gifts to Families in Need

St. Agatha Parish and My Brother's Keeper deliver hope to needy families

Jack Riley is the director of operations at in Milton. The 30-year member of the parish also volunteers to oversee its annual gift drive for My Brother’s Keeper, a local charity that provides Christmas presents for approximately 2,500 needy families in eastern Massachusetts. Riley spoke with columnist Julie Fay about responding to the call to love one’s neighbor.

Describe the giving tree at St. Agatha’s.
For the past 20 years, we have had a giving tree at the church during Advent (the few weeks before Christmas.) The parish takes responsibility for sixty families who have asked My Brother’s Keeper for help. We hang paper ornaments on the tree in church, and these ornaments have gift requests from the families. Parishioners choose the ornaments and purchase gifts for the individuals listed. Then they bring the gifts to church, where we sort, organize and prepare them for delivery.

Tell me about My Brother’s Keeper.
It’s a Christian ministry that delivers furniture and food to needy families year-round. It’s located in Easton, in a warehouse on land donated by the Holy Cross Fathers at Stonehill College. They also do the Christmas gift program every year, and in 2010, served 58 cities and towns in eastern Massachusetts.

My Brother’s Keeper relies heavily on volunteers and on charitable contributions, because it receives no government funding. It’s a Christian charity, but provides help to anyone who asks for it.

How does the Christmas giving program support the mission of My Brother’s Keeper?
The mission is to bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ to those we serve, period. So often, people feel isolated and lonely at this time of year, and they don’t know where to turn. By supplying Christmas gifts, we’re providing hope and encouragement to people who come to My Brother’s Keeper in need. We give people hope that there are people out there who are God’s hands on earth.

One unique thing about the program is that My Brother’s Keeper takes requests for Christmas help right up until Christmas Eve. Many other agencies close their request lines early, for fear that they won’t be able to meet the need (without enough lead time.) My Brother’s Keeper keeps it open until the last day, and they’ve never been unable to deliver.

How does the program make the world a better place?
First, it provides a measure of hope and encouragement to the people who receive gifts. There are a good amount of gifts, wrapped nicely, for each family. They receive the hope and encouragement that go along with each gift.

It also helps by getting so many people in the parish involved, from children right up through senior citizens. It gets people thinking about others, and when people think about others and act on that feeling, it makes the world a better place.

Why do you do it?
I volunteer because I’ve always felt that we are on this earth to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. He ministered to others, and said to love your neighbor as yourself. One way that I can do that is by organizing this effort. I have to do it; it’s what I’m called to do. It’s not a burden. It’s something that is a fulfillment of my beliefs.

A lot of people who volunteer feel the same way. So many people we find here are drawn into church life by doing Christian service, not just by going to church. People are looking for a way to be of service to others and to feel good about it.

Anything else people should know?
It’s not too late to donate to My Brother’s Keeper, because they take requests up until Christmas Eve.  Whatever gifts people can give will be used. It’s not about individuals; it’s about us collectively as a Christian community, acting out our call.

To learn more about donating to or requesting assistance from My Brother’s Keeper, visit www.mybrotherskeeper.org.

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