Marjorie Patrick couldn't resist peeking into the large Christmas gift bag in her lap. Only moments before she had said she was going to save it and put it under her Christmas tree.
“I am curious,” the 89-year-old said with a twinkle in her eyes. The suspense, she added, “is driving me nuts.”
Patrick said she thought the gift bag bulging with personal items, candies, greeting cards, a book and “other fun stuff” may be one of the few gifts — if not the only one — under her tree this year. Tagged with a card reading “Sweet Margie,” it came via Christmas angels Luz Peterson and her daughters, Daphne and Samantha.
“Joyce wanted you to have a little Christmas cheer,” Peterson told Patrick.
Patrick, a resident of Alderwood Assisted Living in Central Point, is one of the nearly 500 recipients of Shepherd of the Valley Catholic Church's Christmas outreach. “Joyce” is Joyce Marks, the coordinator of a program that is spreading Christmas cheer this week throughout the Rogue Valley.
Earlier this week, the Petersons made their rounds delivering care packages to residents of Alderwood, including their own great-grandmother and a half-dozen or so adopted grandpas and grandmas.
“We love it, and the residents love it,” Peterson said of their visits. “The kids love it because almost everyone has a pet they can play with ... it's a lovely, sweet time.”
Marks said the focus of the Central Point congregation is to reach out to those like Patrick who are lonely and without families during a season focused on fellowship and family.
“We want to let them know they are not forgotten,” she said.
Shepherd of the Valley's pastor, Mike Walker, said the church conducted a large-scale gift-giving program for children for several years, and in the last few years started bringing care packages to the church's 50-plus elderly and home-bound parishioners.
“This year, we decided to still provide gifts to kids, but focus our ministry more on the elderly and shut-ins since they are even more likely to fall through the cracks and go unnoticed and unappreciated during Christmas,” he said.
With Marks at the helm, the program grew to include residents at regional assisted-living facilities and medical centers in the Rogue Valley, and seniors who live in Central Point. The church also worked in partnership with the Central Point Police Department's Guardian Angels Program and local senior centers.
Patrick, a lifelong Presbyterian, converted to Catholicism two years ago. Fellow parishioners' kindness fills the void left by the loss of both her daughters and family scattered across the country. The Christmas visits offer an opportunity to reminisce about Christmases past in her home state of Indiana.
Patrick's most memorable Christmas was when she received a Schwinn bike, she said. But she was quick to say, “We never had a lot. We were provided with what we needed when we needed it. We never needed a lot — just love, and that was abundant.”
Marks and Walker said that honoring the elderly is not their only mission.
The objective, they said, is to minister to the “poor in spirit, lonely, marginalized, sick and suffering.” Both noted that the expanded mission was enthusiastically received by parishioners.
On the Saturday before Christmas, deliveries were made to the residents of an adult foster care home serving men challenged with mental health issues. During those visits, Marks encouraged parishioners to be “an ear to listen, a heart to care.”
She acknowledges it sometimes takes “a touch of grace” to reach out to those suffering from schizophrenia, dementia or post traumatic stress disorder.
“Everyone has a story,” she said. “Families giving of their time, their hearts ... that's the spirit of Christmas.”
Church leaders projected that parishioners would reach nearly 500 Rogue Valley residents — a feat made possible by the parishioners' generosity and a miracle or two when “we were scraping the bottom” to meet the need, Marks said.
The gift-giving will wrap up with deliveries to St. Vincent de Paul's meal site, where the homeless will be served Christmas dinner and “hugs” in what Marks calls an exercise in “walking the talk” of Christian love.
The Christmas outreach is “just one practical way as a parish that we want to take up Pope Francis' challenge in the 'Year of Mercy,' ” Walker said. “It is a small way we can share God's love as well as receive it.”
“If all goes well, we will continue to expand this ministry on an even greater level in the Christmases to come,” he added.
Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at email@example.com.