I am Olive and I have been a member of the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women (ACCW) for over 30 years. About 15 years ago I got involved in ACCW’s Appalachia Project, which delivers Christmas gifts to the poor at two sister parishes in Appalachia; Queen of All Saints and Saint Francis of Assisi.
The ACCW has conducted the annual Appalachia drive for 35 years. We estimate that Appalachia drive has delivered over 250,000 Christmas gifts over those 35 years, probably more. About five years ago I took over the leadership of the Appalachia project from Elaine. I live on a farm near Randolph and Hampton Minnesota, and every year in the fall the planning for the Appalachia begins. We have over 50 parishes in the Archdiocese participating, getting the word out to their parishioners, asking them to donate gifts for children and adults. Parish volunteers then gather up those gifts in late fall. The Terminal Transport Trucking Company donates the use of a semi, which is brought to my farm at the beginning of November. For three weeks, the parishes deliver gifts to our farm, which becomes quite a hubbub of activity! ACCW volunteers load them into the semi. This year the semi was driven by the Terminal Company to Kentucky on November 15. The gifts were delivered to the parish distribution centers mid November and they will be given to the families close to Christmas. We estimate that between the parishes and ACCW at our farm, that there were over 300 volunteers on this project. We don’t keep an exact count of gifts, but we estimate we loaded some 20,000 gifts large and small onto that semi this year.
Part of Appalachia is the Papal Footprints/Shoe Box mission, which began in 2013. Every year over 1,000 shoeboxes are filled with something fun – a toy item, as well as hygiene items, school supplies, something warm such as gloves, a stocking hat, or a scarf, or socks, and finally a religious item. These shoe boxes are sent down with all the other gifts that we collect.
The volunteers who have gone down to Kentucky bring back so many stories about two things: the poverty and the gratitude. The parishes in Appalachia are in coal country, and the people served live in the areas surrounding the mountains. There are so many living in makeshift homes. Sister Nancy, who works at the parishes, was with Bob delivering gifts and as they were on a bumpy dirt road Sister said “we’re going to that tar papered place up the road.” Bob told his mom when he returned to Minnesota, “Mom you wouldn’t believe how these people have to live.” Elaine went down to Kentucky herself one year. When she came back she said “It was all worth the effort when you saw the joy and smiles. The gratitude for the food and for the children’s gifts, showed in every face.” That just about says it all.