Catholic Charities Christmas program distributes 2,300 gifts across the diocese

Jessica Anderson of LaSalle receives Christmas presents from Bishop Tylka for her two girls, ages 9 and 10, during a distribution from the Catholic Charities St. Nicholas Van outside St. Patrick Church in LaSalle on Dec. 12. Assisting is Chris McAtee, director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria. (The Catholic Post/Paul Thomas Moore)

By Paul Thomas Moore

LASALLE — The Catholic Charities St. Nicholas van rolled into the parking lot of St. Patrick Church here on Dec. 12, and soon the gift-giving commenced.

Distributing the Christmas gifts — donated by Catholics throughout the diocese and given through Catholic Charites to more than 2,300 people — on this day was Bishop Louis Tylka.

In offering his blessing to those gathered on the cold, but crystal clear morning, Bishop Tylka said: “We ask as we share these gifts with you today, that the Lord continue to bless you and be with you and that you will receive that love that Jesus brings to the world and share that with others.”

A line forms in the parking lot of St. Patrick Church in LaSalle on Dec. 12 to receive Christmas gifts from the Catholic Charities St. Nicholas van. The gifts were distributed this day by Bishop Louis Tylka. (For The Catholic Post/Mary Louise Moore)

As each person came to the head of the line, Chris McAtee, recently appointed director of the Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Peoria, checked their name off against a list and called out what was to be given to that person. Then, acting as an elf in the back of the van, Sister Vilma Loquez, FAS, located the gifts and passed them on to the bishop.


Suzie Meismer, ministries coordinator for Catholic Charities, said that a similar gift-giving process to what unfolded in LaSalle had already taken place or would take place in a dozen cities across the diocese before Christmas, including Carthage, Mendota, Dwight, Rantoul, Peoria, Marseilles, Streator, Lacon, Moline, Bloomington, Champaign, and Tolono.

In addition, Catholic Charities also distributed Christmas gifts at the parish level through St. Mary, DePue, and St. Mary, Canton. Gifts were provided as well through the Galesburg food pantry, and plans call for distribution via the food pantry at Holy Family Parish in Danville before the feast of Epiphany.

Utilizing the St. Nicholas van is a “Christmas take” on a similar process used by Catholic Charities to distribute food and other essentials via the van throughout the year.

Jessica Anderson — who happily received Christmas presents on behalf of her two daughters, ages 9 and 10 — acknowledged the van is always a welcome visitor.

“I’m really glad that they do this every month, and then, around Christmas time, they give out gifts for kids,” she told The Catholic Post.

Father Tom Otto, pastor of the LaSalle Catholic Parishes, hands out the January St. Nicholas van schedule to those waiting in line for Christmas presents at St. Patrick Church in LaSalle on Dec. 12. (The Catholic Post/Paul Thomas Moore)

On the LaSalle distribution morning, Father Tom Otto handed out the January St. Nicholas van schedule to those waiting in line for their presents. Father Otto is pastor of St. Hyacinth and St. Patrick parishes, and rector of Queen of the Holy Rosary Shrine, all in LaSalle.

Dale Wilson of Peru was glad to learn of the monthly service. There to pick up presents for his three sons — ages 8, 10, and 13 — Wilson indicated that any help on the food end was appreciated. It helps out with three growing boys who eat a lot,” he said.


The Christmas gifts came from hundreds of generous Catholics.

“I counted 24 parishes . . . Newman centers, Catholic schools, or altar and rosary societies across the diocese (that) have given, as well as at least four businesses,” said Meismer.

McAtee was finding that his second experience of helping out on the van (he also participated at Thanksgiving) was giving him a richer understanding of the people he was hired to serve. ‘You talk to people in person, you see that they are so grateful, and it’s great, in a small way, to give them some joy for Christmas.”

This year’s drive was coordinated by Julie Enzenberger.

Karrie Stanger of LaSalle is already taking Bishop Tylka’s sharing message to heart. She has no children, but was accepting gifts for herself and her fiancé, and, “I sometimes share with my friend I live with, too, her and her husband . . . . we kinda share stuff.”

When told of this later, Suzie Meismer smiled. She was familiar with how those with little can have such open hands and said there’s a word for it: “neighboring.” Meismer said it was “so beautiful, it really is. You’ve given to them and they are sort of extending it.”

Catholic Charities, she added, provides a perspective that is “such a beautiful view of the church . . . giving to our fellow people in need.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: More photos from the LaSalle distribution will be posted to The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook.

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