KENTUCKY—With temperatures rising into the 60’s and steady pouring rain, it certainly didn’t feel like Christmas late November in Corbin, Kentucky. Despite the lack of “festive” weather, the youth of St. Aloysius were unconcerned, traveling from house to house spreading Christmas cheer.
On November 30, 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 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. The evening in October also included Eucharistic Adoration, and a presentation on the needs of the poor in Kentucky.
After a day of travel that featured a two-hour flight, a lengthy car ride and a quick stop at both Chick-Fil-A and the Kentucky Horse Park, the weary group arrived late in Corbin, Kentucky, which is in the southern part of the state.
The following day, it was time to get down to the business of serving the people of God. Despite the early morning wake-up, the youth were energized and excited to meet with the families who would be receiving stockings.
As one would imagine, such an undertaking requires massive organization and preparation. Working with Chris Otis were members of the Christian Appalachian project, as well as local parishioners from the Diocese of Lexington. The morning began at the Christian Appalachian project’s headquarters, where the cars were loaded, and the group was divided into six teams, each of which were assigned a local guide. After that, the teams were off to meet with their families!
Teens, accompanied by two chaperones and their guide, made visits to over 40 homes. Their mission was not simply to deliver stockings, but to meet and talk to the families, and specifically the children present at each house.
“I was so incredibly proud of the teens,” said John Grosso, a chaperone on the trip, “they wasted no time playing with the kids, holding them and asking them meaningful questions about their lives. They overcame any shyness or fears they may have had and were totally open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.”
Along with exchanging gifts, the youth gave the families groceries and Christmas hams. They also joined with the families, especially the young ones, in singing Christmas carols.
Each team visited between six and eight houses each, as well as stopping throughout the day when they saw children in their travels around the town.
“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 beautiful and emotional day, the group re-gathered in Barbourville, to participate in the town’s annual Christmas parade. The group traversed the city distributing plush hedgehogs and lots of candy and won third place in the parade! After a brief dinner with the community of St. Gregory Parish, the teens and chaperones met to discuss their reflections on the day.
“It was really stunning to me, how faithful Archie (a Grandfather one of our groups met with) was. He has been through so much recently, losing his daughter and his wife in such a short period of time and yet he was unwavering in his faith,” one of the youths shared.
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.
Though the day was uncharacteristically warm – around 60 degrees, there was plenty of Christmas spirit to go around. Teens joined the guests of the shelter in their makeshift chapel, singing Christmas hymns and joining together in prayer and reflection.
“One of the most impactful moments to me was when we started to sing ‘Lord I Need You,’ and the guests of the homeless shelter stood up and sang with us arm and arm,” one of the group members said.
After an impactful visit, the group joined the parishioners of St. Gregory Parish for Mass celebrated by Bishop John Stowe of the Diocese of Lexington, 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 for a delayed flight 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!”