St. Lucy’s Church makes Christmas happen

By Eileen Jevis
Staff writer

“Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver”

(2 Corinthians 9:7).

One of the ministries at St. Lucy’s Church on the near westside of Syracuse provides families in need with gifts and essential items at Christmastime. On Dec. 3, close to 600 people shopped for their children and family members at the annual Gift Giving event. For 16 years, Marie and Ed Rothbaler have led the program with the help of co-director Donna Carr and a host of committed volunteers.

The Rothbalers and their team shop year-round for the event. They travel throughout Central New York to take advantage of discounted prices, purchasing clothing, toys, household items, bedding and much more.

“It takes a large number of volunteers to ensure the event is successful,” said Marie Rothbaler. “Members of the Building Men program load and transport the items that have been purchased and stored in a nearby warehouse to St. Lucy’s for sorting and setup. Students from Westhill School help organize and display thousands of items to ensure shopping is easy and efficient,” she explained. Students from Christian Brothers Academy act as personal shoppers, guiding guests through the gymnasium and assisting them with the process. As a community-service project, students from Westhill, Bishop Ludden, CBA and Immaculate Conception schools collect toiletry items and make bags to distribute. “Saint Charles Food pantry is also a generous supporter,” added Rothbaler. “We are so very grateful and thankful to all those who help make this possible.”

Two of the 600 attendees head home with their treasures.

Due to COVID-19 protocols, the program was scaled back in recent years. “This year there was no live music, no Santa, no gift wrapping and no cookie trays,” said Rothbaler. When volunteer Terry Gavagan heard the committee was not going to provide cookie trays, she took matters into her own hands. She made hundreds of dozens of cookies and packaged 200 individual boxes to be distributed to the families in attendance.

“The Christmas Gift Ministry is living the Gospel message,” said Sister Pat Bergan, O.S.F., pastoral assistant at St. Lucy’s. “Marie, Ed and Donna have brought such spirit to the ministry. Sister Pat said there is much to learn from our neighbors. “We may be giving to those in need, but they give us so much in return with their gratitude and appreciation.”

The Rothbalers will step down as directors of the program but will stay involved. In 2023, the torch will be passed to co-directors Nicolas Salibrici and Kay Scharoun. Kay is an active member of the community. Scharoun and her husband have been actively involved with the program for 10 years, acting as gift shoppers and helping wherever needed. “I agreed to take on this role because I was looking for a way to make my volunteer efforts more meaningful,” said Scharoun.

Salibrici is a member of St. Lucy’s music ministry and serves on the parish council. He is a teacher in the Syracuse City School District and a member of the Building Men Program. “My involvement in Building Men was the impetus of me wanting the Christmas Giveaway to continue,” he said.

Scharoun said there are currently no sponsors, benefactors or foundations who provide support. They rely solely on the generosity of parishioners and friends of St. Lucy’s for donations. The new co-directors will work to change that.

Salibrici also runs a program called Team Adventure — a leadership and team-building program for corporate and non-corporate groups. “We have a lot of connections through this organization as well as my connections in the school,” he said. “There’s a network of people we can get in touch with to secure donations.”

The Rothbalers said this ministry was a pure joy to be involved in. “It gave us a sense of satisfaction to see the smile on the face of someone who doesn’t have much economically,” said Ed. “We encourage the community to get involved. You don’t have to be a parishioner of St. Lucy’s.”

“The people who volunteer are the salt of the earth,” added Scharoun. “They are kind and generous souls. They are an inspiration. This event is one of my favorite holiday traditions.”

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