The altar area at St. Francis Church is cramped this Christmas season as piles of wrapped toys congest the church's sanctuary. The congregation of the small, yet socially responsive church has again showed that it cares by donating more than 1,000 toys to a handful of needy charities.
"It's the little church with the big heart," said Father Michael Guglielmelli Tuesday of the church's effort to collect toys for the less fortunate this holiday season. "We're a small parish but very active in the community."
Some of charities that will benefit from this year's drive are the Faith Services AIDS initiative group, the Montgomery Street Housing Project in Jersey City, the St. Francis sponsored House of Faith for the Homeless, Cervical Cancer Control Initiative (CEED) in Jersey City and St. Mary Mental Health Center.
The program, which is a decade old, has children write on an index card what they would like for Christmas. The organization that the child is involved with passes the card on to the church, where a parishioner or other member of the community is able to pick one request and purchase that toy for the child.
This week the charities were scheduled to pick up the toys in preparation for their annual Christmas parties, where the gifts are to be handed out to the children.
"It really works out well, because instead of just buying presents at random, we're able to purchase the exact gift in the exact size that the child wants," said Guglielmelli. "To look at some of the toys and gifts that were bought, it's just amazing. People really went out of their way to make sure that someone else is able to have a special holiday season."
The organizations accepting the donations from St. Francis have nothing but praise for the neighborhood benefactor. "[St. Francis Church] and Fr. Michael are really a joy to work with," said John Lorenzo, the executive director of Faith Services. "Their parish has always been there when we need them most. In lieu of everything that has happened in the past year, it's reassuring that there are people out their that have the capacity to give even in the hardest of times."
Guglielmelli added that in this year bound by tragedy and economic hardship, it is now more important than ever to give. "There's an old Franciscan hymn that says give and you shall reap," he said. "We have again come together to give to those who can't give back. This year, more than most, I have seen the community work together, and despite things being harder, people have found the means and ways to give of themselves."
Another aspect of St. Francis' mission to the poor is the distribution of food to the hungry. Every day the church provides lunch for 20 to 25 homeless or unemployed persons. Donations and local merchants provide most of the food for the lunches that are given away.
"Our mission here is to help the people that can use the help," said Guglielmelli.
St. Francis Church accepts donations from the community. Food or monetary donations can be sent to St. Francis Church at 308 Jefferson St., Hoboken NJ 07030. For more information, call 659-1776.