By SHANNON PHILPOTT-SANDERS
What began as an effort to provide Christmas gifts for needy families by the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ 40 years ago has evolved from a pile of presents in a convent basement to Santa’s Workshop at the thrift store of Daystar in Cairo.
Each December, Director Sherry Miller, with the help of her staff and diocesan parish volunteers, clears out the thrift shop and turns it into a winter wonderland for families to choose gifts for their children.
“Each person in the household gets a gift as well as items such as underwear, socks, hats, and books,” said Miller. “Then, we provide them with a food box to help with their holiday meals.”
The Daystar Community Program in Cairo, an agency of the Diocese of Belleville, serves eight counties in Illinois throughout the year, providing assistance to families in need.
“We are working for God, trying to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and keep them warm,” said Miller, who has served as director since 1991. “We are seeing a lot more people come in and this is our busiest time of the year.”
According to Miller, the Christmas program at Daystar would not be possible without the contributions and efforts of volunteers from the parishes.
“The people in the diocese have been instrumental in making this happen,” said Miller.
The Knights of Columbus provides new coats for the Christmas giveaways while Holy Childhood in Mascoutah sponsors a Giving Tree. The youth of the parish also volunteer their time one weekend in December, converting the store into Santa’s Workshop.
Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic School in Waterloo and Immaculate Conception in Columbia have formed a fundraising competition to support Daystar’s efforts. The annual Funderwear Drive solicits donations of new socks, hats, gloves, T-shirts and underwear. The school collecting the most items wins the competition and receives the “Tighty-Whitey” trophy at a basketball game each December at Gibault Catholic High School.
For Miller, seeing the efforts of the parishes and schools, as well as the relief these collections provide to the families is the ultimate reward. “When we can lift someone up, that’s the reward we get,” she said. “They don’t have anyone who believes in them and they have so much in their hearts and minds. We believe in them.”