Dec. 11-17, 2003
Gift of Giving
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Students at Seton Catholic Central spread cheer among their peers
BINGHAMTON — When Kathy Pfaffenbach’s children came to her four years ago and expressed their concern about the lack of assistance given to teens in Broome County, she told them to come up with a way to address the problem. Pfaffenbach is the coordinator of emergency services of Catholic Charities of Broome County. Her own children were well aware of the increasing need among the poor in the area. Her son, Sam, came up with the idea of starting a Christmas program at Seton Catholic Central Junior/High School that would encourage the students to buy gifts for other teens in their age group. Sam took the idea to the student council and they decided to try it on a limited basis. That was the birth of the Teen to Teen Christmas Program.
“The first year about 25 to 50 teens received new clothing with a tag on it,” said Pfaffenbach. “That was the year someone donated the magical sweater,” she said. Pfaffenbach said that when she presented a new sweater to a mother to give to her son for Christmas, the mother was in tears. She told Pfaffenbach that was the first time her son had the opportunity to pull the tag off a piece of new clothing. Three years later, Pfaffenbach was hurrying to her car in the parking lot at Catholic Charities to present the program to the students at Seton Catholic. A young man approached her with a bag in his hand. “He had been standing in line waiting for the building to open,” said Pfaffenbach. “I thought he was looking for food.” Instead he handed her the bag and said, “I just want to pass along something that was done for me. I was the kid who received a sweater with a new tag on it and I just wanted to return the favor.”
“Whatever I was going to say at that presentation went right out of my head,” said Pfaffenbach. “I’ve been telling that story to the student body ever since.” Last year the students at Seton Catholic bought Christmas presents for 150 to 200 teens in need. “That’s how this program mushroomed,” said Pfaffenbach. “These kids don’t just bring in hats and mittens. So many bring in quality clothing from places like Old Navy, The Gap, Abercrombie and Fitch. But it’s not about how expensive the clothes are,” she said. “It’s the fact that these kids think enough of someone that they’ve never met.”
Christina Muscatello, a senior at Seton Catholic, has been involved with the Teen to Teen Program since its inception. “I think it’s important because of the faltering economy,” she said. “The people who are in need could have once been in our position of giving. And now they are in need themselves.” A few years back, Christina made fleece hats and brought them in to be given to those in need. “I have a fleece hat business,” she said. “I make specialty hats that are unique.” One year Christina brought in plus-size clothing because she felt that that size was often overlooked. Christina is a volunteer at Catholic Charities of Broome County. She helped out with the Thanksgiving food drive and is a regular volunteer at the food pantry. “I think it’s a great organization. Everyone is there for the common good of helping people,” she said. “There seems to be hate all around us in the world and when you see so many people pouring out love, it’s great to see.”
Gabrielle Nocciolino, an 11th grader at Seton Catholic, has been purchasing gifts for teens in need for three years. “I think a lot of teens often take for granted what they have,” she said. “When it comes down to it, we have so much more to give than we realize. It’s a very rewarding experience. The recipients appreciate even the smallest things.” Gabrielle said that she has purchased everything from toothbrushes to sweaters to give away. As a volunteer at Catholic Charities, Gabrielle said that she is very aware of the number of local people who are in need. “When you go through your everyday routine, it makes you more aware of what you have,” she said. “The people who volunteer at Catholic Charities are there because they want to be. We are not doing it to get something in return. It makes you feel good.” Pfaffenbach said that there are many teens who help. One student who came to mind was Theresa Phan. “She’s a silent kid that does 100 percent,” said Pfaffenbach. “She is there for everything. She shows up with a group of teens behind her ready to do what needs to be done.” Allison Busby, a 12th grader at Seton Catholic, said that the realization of how many people are in need was really brought home to her when she saw the people being helped at Catholic Charities. “It’s people that are our ages who are in need,” she said.
Pfaffenbach said that the project has had a huge impact on the students. “Whenever I talk to the students, it impacts them because of Catholic Charities’ close proximity to the school. “One block away from the school there are people asking for food at Catholic Charities,” she said. “I tell the students they are living out the Gospel message. We are the hands of Jesus.”