By Jennika Baines
Sun Associate Editor
After years of providing religious education classes, volunteering opportunities, youth outings, projects and special Masses, it can be tough to keep young people involved in the parish after they’ve been confirmed. Many parishes in the diocese are looking at ways to continue the involvement of young people after they’ve left for college.
For the past 10 years, St. Joseph’s Church in Camillus has sent out care packages to college students and young people serving in the military to show them that their parish cares about them after the requirements of confirmation are complete.
“Last year we sent out 85. I’ve sent out as many as 120,” said Cyndi Heath, director of youth ministry for St. Joseph’s.
She said that eight boxes were sent overseas last year to young people serving in the military. “It can go anywhere from five some years to 20 to 25 other years,” she said.
She said she got the idea from Sister Eileen McCann, CSJ, the former diocesan director of the Office of Youth Ministry who used to bake cookies to send in care packages to students from her parish of St. James in Cazenovia. With nearly 100 boxes to send, Heath said there was no chance of baking that many cookies. So she starts with the next best thing: candy.
This week, bulletin announcements will ask parishioners to drop off any candy they have left over once the trick-or-treaters are gone. “We don’t want it sitting in your house giving you extra calories,” she joked.
The first week of November, Heath will publish announcements asking parents with college students or young people serving in the military to send in their child’s address. Heath also asks for a $5 donation toward the cost of mailing the package.
“And the parents will let us know if there are any allergies and they can put in a little note or something extra. Sometimes they’ll drop off some candy and say, ‘This is my daughter’s favorite candy bar,’” Heath said.
During the second week of November donations for the college care packages will start coming in. Boxes are put by all the doors, and even with the many other donation opportunities available through the church at the holidays, Heath said she is always surprised at the generosity of the parishioners.
She said that donations usually fill five or six big rubber bins with candy and snacks, socks, toothbrushes and toothpaste, toiletries, mittens and even little Christmas decorations. Boxes of granola bars or packages with several fruit cups or macaroni and cheese boxes are especially good because the packages can be opened and divided among many of the care boxes. Heath also asks for donations of bubble wrap to help with the packing project.
On the Sunday after Thanksgiving boxes donated from a local store are lined up on tables in the gym. Confirmation students fill the boxes and might add a little note of their own, especially if they know the student who will be receiving the package. Heath said she’ll provide pizza and soda for the students as they work.
“Father Greg [LeStrange, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church] will write a letter and I’ll attach a St. Joseph’s medal to it and we’ll put in a little note saying ‘We miss you. Good luck on your finals and come see us when you get home,’” Heath said.
The boxes are mailed out the first week in December. Heath asks parents to tell their students to expect something in the mail because they may not check their mailboxes often.
She said the notes of thanks she receives from the students are very heartwarming, and Heath often publishes excerpts of the letters in the church bulletin so that those who donated know how much their thoughtfulness is appreciated.
“The notes we get back from the college students are unbelievable,” she said. The packages also include an invitation to a pizza party at the parish over the Christmas break.
“The kids might visit us then and they have a chance to sit down with Father Greg. They tell us about their friends and their classes,” she said. “It’s just another opportunity to keep them involved.”