Clairvaux Hall was bursting with people a few weeks ago when the St. Bernard Church community came together for its first ever Family Volunteer Day. Parishioners, school children, families and church leaders alike were part of this enthusiastic group, who sacrificed their Saturday morning to make the lives of hundreds of needy Pittsburghers a little bit easier or more cheerful this holiday season.
“We didn’t ask for RSVPs, so we had no idea how many people were coming,” says Rachel Kepperling, who brought her three children to participate and helped with some of the event prep. “I would like to think, after walking in and seeing this turn-out, this event will be happening next year, too.”
National Family Volunteer Day, which is presented by generationOn and sponsored by Disney Friends for Change, has been on the Saturday before Thanksgiving for 25 years. Sister Daniella Bronka, principal of St. Bernard School, got the idea to bring it to St. Bernard because of its success at the school in Philadelphia where she worked before coming to Pittsburgh. Bronka then worked with the event’s organizer, PTG president Genna Kicinski, to make Family Volunteer Day a reality for St. Bernard Church. “We found out we received the [$1,000] grant [from the presenters] in October,” says Bronka,” and then Genna and her team planned all of this over two months.”
It must have been quite the undertaking, as the St. Bernard Family Volunteer Day featured four different activities for participants—the Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes program, St. Bernard’s ongoing tube socks for the homeless project, Christmas ornaments for Asbury Heights and backpacks for the Foster Love Project.
“We had to get 100 of everything for the backpacks,” says Kicinski, whose work with the foster care system has given her a particular fondness for this project that provides foster children with a backpack filled with essentials and comforting items when they are taken from their homes. “The grant allowed us to buy a lot of the items for today’s activities, but donations from our church community and local stores made this possible as well.”
Community and family involvement is what National Family Volunteer Day is all about. From Kicinski’s perspective, teaching kids about volunteer work is another important result of the event. “Often parents don’t know how to get their kids volunteering,” she says, “so we’re giving them a place to start.”
One such child was Garrett Pavlick, a student at St. Bernard School who attended Family Volunteer Day with his mother, Susan. “When I got here and saw all the people, I knew it was going to be fun,” says Pavlick. “My favorite part was making a card for a soldier. I wrote ‘Thank you,’ told them that they were in my prayers and wished them a Merry Christmas!”
As the morning wore on, the room filled with more than 150 eager volunteers. Eventually, the supplies were almost completely exhausted and in their place were more than 100 filled backpacks and holiday cards for the armed forces, more than 50 ornaments for Asbury Heights and 250 rolled tube socks for the homeless, which the parish community plans to deliver personally to recipients before the holidays.
“This is beyond our expectations,” says Rev. David Bonnar, who was overwhelmed by the participation of the church community at the event. “This shows there are people who care. It makes me proud to be a pastor and a human being. There’s lots of bad news in the world, but we can’t lose sight of the goodness all around us.”