Thursday, December 17, 2009
As they made their lists and checked them twice, it was clear that the Rider University students busily sorting gifts inside the Catholic Campus Ministry’s Emmaus House would soon be set to spread some cheer to the children at the Millhill Child and Family Development Corporation in Trenton.
On this blustery, 34-degree December morning, it was a good thing, too. “It’s very common that a child might come to school, even on a day like today, without a coat, because their parents have to make choices about the essentials,” said Syreeta Washington, director of social services for Millhill.
Washington explained that the 150 children at the center typically come from underserved backgrounds, and their families’ incomes often are exhausted on rent and food. “We’ll fill in by providing coats or sneakers as they need,” she said.
But even as Millhill and these families team up to provide these essentials to the children, it leaves little left over for holiday cheer. This is why the small convoy of cars that travelled from Rider’s Lawrenceville campus, bearing at least 140 gifts, was such a welcome sight.
“These kinds of gifts really make a child’s holiday,” said Washington, who was excited for the children to wake from their naps so she could help distribute the toys – a colorful cornucopia of Hot Wheels cars, Play-Doh kitchens, Tonka trucks and assorted dolls. “It makes me feel like Santa Claus!”
If Washington is Santa Claus, then the “little helpers,” in this case, were the members of the Rider community who responded to the Rider Catholic Campus Ministry (CCM) and Father Joseph Jakub’s call for gifts for its annual Giving Tree.
The presents collected are a response to the tagged tree Catholic Campus Ministry set up in the rear of Gill Chapel. This year, the Giving Tree held 115 name tags on it, identifying the age and gender of children from Millhill. Anyone was invited to take a tag, and a number of gift-givers responded with multiple gifts, inflating the total to more than 140 between November 20 and the December 6 deadline.
“I think it’s been amazing to see the response of the people who gave gifts, and the students who are bringing them down to Millhill,” said Jakub, who began work as Rider’s Catholic chaplain this summer after serving at St. Aloysius in Jackson, N.J. “A number of our students bought gifts, but a lot of these came from members of the Rider and Lawrenceville community who join us for weekly Mass.”
Senior Maggie Molfetas, who organized the event with help from Association of Commuter Students, said the Giving Tree relationship between CCM and Millhill extends back “a long time” into the past, and that CCM’s seasonal involvement with the center also includes a Halloween candy drive and an Easter candy drive.
Molfetas said that the holiday season is particularly meaningful, though, as she considers a Christmas with no presents. “Millhill is a school primarily for underprivileged kids, and as close as they are, they are our neighbors,” said the Public Relations/Journalism major from Montgomery, N.J. “This is a chance to do something for the community that is right in our backyard and show that charity really does begin at home.”
“It’s such a beautiful thing that Rider does,” said Millhill’s Washington, who added that the Millhill staff will also provide for any shortage to ensure that every child has a present. “The children really do appreciate it.”
Founded in 1971, Millhill Child and Family Development Corporation is open to any resident of Mercer County, but most of its children come from Trenton. “We’re one of the very few centers to provide subsidized child care,” said Roukya Rhym Guisse, communications director at Millhill, who added that only children with a parent working more than 30 hours per week or enrolled as full-time students are eligible. “Our objective is to provide free pre-school to those who likely wouldn’t be able to get it otherwise.”
Guisse said she and her fellow staffers are well-acquainted with the children, and are able to match each unwrapped present with a child who might best enjoy it. “If someone loves dinosaurs, we’ll make sure that’s what he gets,” she explained.
Dinosaurs may be from another epoch, but the spirit of giving never grows old. “I’m proud to be a part of this,” said freshman Anthony Maddaluno, a Secondary Education major from Staten Island, N.Y., who got involved with Catholic Campus Ministry during the fall, his first semester at Rider. “It’s a good feeling to help someone who needs it.”