KENTUCKY—As temperatures dipped into the low 40s and with the threat of snow on the horizon, it certainly felt a lot like Christmas in Corbin, Kentucky this December…and not just because of the weather. Young people from St. Aloysius Parish in New Canaan brought Christmas cheer and, in some cases, carols, to every house they visited during their weekend-long mission trip the first weekend of December.
On December 6, 24 youth and 12 chaperones from St. Aloysius Parish traveled to Kentucky as part of their annual “Project 1,000,” an initiative that seeks to distribute a thousand filled Christmas stockings to children in need in the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky. The team met at St. Aloysius in early October to help facilitate the massive undertaking of packing the stockings, working with Director of Youth Ministry Chris Otis and a large team of religious education students preparing for Confirmation.
After a day of travel that featured an hour-long shuttle to Newark, a two-hour flight, a lengthy car ride and a quick stop at Skyline Chili, the weary group arrived around midnight in Corbin, Kentucky, which is in the southernmost part of the state.
Despite the late arrival, Saturday morning began early, with young people quickly rising at 7:30 am, excited and energized to begin a day of service.
Such an undertaking requires massive organization and preparation. Working with St. Aloysius Youth Minister Chris Otis were members of the Christian Appalachian project, as Barbourville Mayor David Thompson and County Clerk Mike Corey. The morning began at the Christian Appalachian project’s headquarters, where the large SUVs were loaded and the group was divided into six teams, each of which were assigned two local guides. It wasn’t long before the teams were deployed throughout the region, meeting with families!
Teens, accompanied by two chaperones and their guides, made visits to well over 40 homes. Teens spent upwards of 20 minutes in each home, meeting and talking with families, sharing Christmas memories and, in some cases, even singing some Christmas carols with children.
“I am so incredibly proud of the teens,” said John Grosso, a chaperone on the trip for the second year in a row, “they were, of course, nervous at first, but that quickly melted away once they started meeting with kids. It was amazing to see—they wasted no time playing with the kids and sharing experiences of school and life with them. They overcame any shyness they may have had and were totally open to the encouragements of the Holy Spirit.”
Along with exchanging gifts, the teens and local guides gave each family a bag of groceries and Christmas hams. Each team visited between eight and twelve houses each, as well as stopping throughout the day when they saw children in their travels around the town or countryside.
“It was wonderful to deliver the stockings to the families,” said Chris Otis, who organized every aspect of the trip, “but what was really profound was that our teens were able to spend time with each family and made time to listen and to love!”
After a long and emotional day, the group re-gathered in Barbourville to briefly eat dinner and then participate in the town’s annual “I Believe in Santa Claus” Christmas Parade. The group traversed the city on a large homemade float, distributing plush foxes and bags of chocolate! After the parade, the group gathered to celebrate Mass with Father David Roman, who reflected powerfully on the scriptures of the day, and their beautiful application to the work that had been done.
“How beautiful is it that in today’s Gospel, we hear:
‘Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Cure the sick, raise the dead,
cleanse lepers, drive out demons.
Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.’
For that is what you have done today with your love and service to our brothers and sisters in need.” The teens and chaperones met to discuss their reflections on the day.
The youth closed out the day skating at an indoor roller rink before heading to bed.
The following morning, on Sunday, the team again rose early—this time to travel to a homeless shelter in the region to bring breakfast, coffee, food, winter gear and Christmas cheer. Teens joined the guests of the shelter in their makeshift chapel, singing Christmas hymns and joining together in prayer and reflection.
After an impactful visit, the group joined the parishioners of St. Gregory Parish for Mass, followed by a delicious lunch of homemade Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Though the trip home was long (two hours of travel to the airport, followed by several more of waiting and then a drive back from Newark), the youth and their chaperones radiated the love and joy they had experienced the entire weekend.
Chris Otis said is best, as she spoke to the kids before embarking on the trip home, “We are very blessed, and it is very important for you to see why God put us on this earth…to serve our brothers and sisters in need!”