By Tony DeGol
Sporting a Santa hat and a spirit as bright as Christmas lights, Allison Moriconi was in her element the other day during a gift wrapping party at her school.
“I love to wrap gifts,” she proclaimed. “All my gifts are already wrapped at home.”
A senior at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Ebensburg, Moriconi was one of many enthusiastic Santa’s helpers that day on Husky Hill.
“Christmas is my favorite holiday, so it makes me feel good that I’m doing something for those in my community who need it because this is a hard time for a lot of people, and I think everyone deserves some Christmas joy,” Moriconi added.
“It’s basically helping kids that can’t receive gifts from their parents, and we’re all grateful that we can,” noted senior Michael Leahey, who was also immersed in paper, bows, and tape.
Moriconi and Leahy were referring to the Angel Tree project – a tradition at Bishop Carroll.
“We’ve been doing the Angel Tree for quite a few years,” explained BCCHS Campus Minister Karen Blaisdell. “It used to be a traditional tree with angel ornaments, and a gift would be on the back, but now we do it on line, so people can go on line and choose a gift, and they’re reminded to send it, and everyone brought their gifts, and now we’re having a wrapping party.”
And what would a party be without plenty of good spirit and happy souls?
“A mix of everyone is here – students, parents, administrators, teachers – a lot of people are here willing to help us out today,” observed Blaisdell.
Bishop Carroll partners with Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown for the outreach.
At the beginning of November, the agency sent Carroll a list of families in need.
With more than 200 gifts collected this year, the school was able to fulfill all of the recipients’ wishes, and hopefully lift their spirits, and hopefully make them realize that they are not alone.
“We really want to be that person who can help others in need without recognition,” stressed Blaisdell. “We don’t even want anybody to know that the gifts are coming from here specifically, because the gifts are from everyone’s heart. Jesus calls us to serve one another, and because of His gift, we just want to respond in gratitude, and one way we can respond in gratitude is by helping people in need, and that’s what we’re doing this Christmas. I think the Angel Tree is a wonderful way for our students to realize there is a need out there.”
Added Carroll Head of School Stephen Cotchen: “I think sometimes we get wrapped up in what Christmas has become, and we don’t really focus on what we can do for others during this time. It really gives our students the opportunity to get involved in service-oriented projects that are going to benefit kids in our community.”
BCCHS Guidance Counselor Christine Laverick was among the staff pitching in at the wrapping party.
“Just seeing the students participating like they have been is just so honorable,” she said. “When you see the students, the faculty, and the staff, and everybody participating, it’s just such a wonderful feeling.”
Many things are special about Carroll’s Angel Tree project, including the fact that the students’ generosity not only provides cool toys and games for youngsters, but also essential items for families like towels, blankets, diapers, and laundry detergent – things most of us probably take for granted.
“They aren’t extreme luxuries,” pointed out Blaisdell. “These people have needs that are really desperate, and we’re just happy to be able to fulfill them.”
After all of the goodies were wrapped, Catholic Charities picked them up and distributed to the families.
Obviously, the Carroll students will not get to see the faces of the little ones light up when they open the gifts, but the recipients can be assured that a lot of heart went into making their Christmas brighter.
“It just feels great because we’re always part of a giving community,” assured Leahey.
[Photos: (Top) BCCHS Guidance Counselor Christine Laverick assists a student wrapping gifts for the school’s Angel Tree project. (First Inset) Student Allison Moriconi strategically wraps a toy dump truck. (Second Inset) Student Michael Leahey finishes up wrapping a gift. (Third Inset) Head of School Stephen Cotchen boxes up a package for an Angel Tree recipient.]