After what may have been the most isolated 22 months of their lives, 21,000 residents of nursing homes in the Archdiocese of Louisville are receiving Christmas cards from strangers this Advent.
Parishes, schools and organizations have collected, signed and even made the cards since early November.
The effort is simple but powerful, said those who took part.
“These can be lonely times for residents,” said Moira Brennan, a long-term care ombudsman for Catholic Charities of Louisville and the project leader. “These are seniors who have probably just had the worst two years of their lives” because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I believe we’re here to serve each other and that means bringing joy when we can — taking care of people’s hearts when we can, not just being advocates,” Brennan noted.
When she put out the call for help with the project — in parish bulletins, Catholic Charities’ newsletter and The Record — people responded in a big way. Almost 50 groups took part, including 34 parishes and schools and 65 individuals, many of whom dropped off cards anonymously.
St. Bernadette Church contributed 2,787 signed cards.
“This was such an easy one to do,” said Judy Montgomery, a volunteer who organized St. Bernadette’s effort. “I think that’s one of the things that I loved about this project. We lead busy lives. When we think of service or helping someone, our minds immediately go to our time: I don’t have time. And we don’t to a certain extent. So, this particular project spoke to families especially.”
The project, which was part of the parish’s Neighbor Care ministry, also helped her family find time to observe Advent, she said.
“Advent is a time we try to quiet down. We hear ‘prepare’ and we hear ‘distractions.’ Families are on the go. This project lent itself to silence, family time and sharing of our time.
“We want to bring joy to people and this brought us joy while we were working on it. We giggled and laughed,” she said, noting that she and her husband Gary worked on it with their grandson, Caleb Brentzel, a Trinity High School junior.
St. Paul School students took the project to heart once they understood the assignment, said the school’s office manager Rachel McCarver.
“Our students are so incredible,” she said in an email about the effort. “Not only did our students create handcrafted cards in their art classes, but many went home and made more in the evenings after their homework was completed. There would be mornings where our elementary students would scramble down the hallway in groups to open up their backpacks with such excitement to pull out handfuls of colorful Christmas cards for our friends in the community.”
McCarver, who has only worked at St. Paul for a couple of months, said she appreciated the students’ “beautiful giving hearts.” The parish contributed a total of 750 cards.
“Our students created nearly 350 cards all on their own. It just makes my heart melt,” McCarver added.
Brennan said Catholic Charities received a total of 30,000 donated Christmas cards, some signed and some unsigned. About 9,000 will be reserved for next year. She intends to continue the project next Christmas and hopes to see it grow.
“Older people in our lives are tucked away, they’re not integrated into our daily lives,” she noted, referring to those living in care facilities. “This is a way for children in particular to be compassionate in a way that’s uncomplicated and direct. Kids can’t give money or serve a meal. It’s made people feel really good.”