Diocesan News

Bright Christmas Campaign Helped Create ‘Miles of Smiles’ Last Year

Make a Difference Christmas’s co-coordinators Thomas Flood and Ann Turner celebrated another successful Christmas with Father Christopher Heanue, administrator at Holy Child Jesus Church, Richmond Hill. (Photos: courtesy of Thomas Flood)

BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — When a 16-year-old boy asked for Subway Series tickets last year, the Make a Difference Christmas Effort had no idea what they would mean to a family of four. A team member had been waiting to personally deliver the Mets tickets to the family’s oldest son when he saw the teen walking with what looked like a backpack over his shoulders.

“He was actually carrying his dad, who recently had both legs amputated from diabetes,” explained Thomas Flood, vice president for advancement at St. Francis College and co-coordinator of the Make a Difference Christmas Effort that’s affiliated with Holy Child Jesus Parish (Richmond Hill).

“The dad’s dream was to take his three boys to a Subway Series game at Citi Field, behind the Mets’ dugout. He came to thank us for making a difference in his and his sons’ lives,” he continued. “It was raw, real, and overwhelming to witness the tears of joy on his face. I’m not sure who cried more — the dad or us?”

This moment was made possible thanks to your generosity to The Tablet’s annual Bright Christmas Campaign. Over the last nine years, the campaign received and distributed more than $1 million, which was used to purchase Christmas presents, food, educational materials, and other basic necessities.

Related: St. John’s Bread and Life Nourishes Souls at Christmas

Make a Difference purchases basic clothing items and an individual wish item — like the baseball tickets listed here, for example — for 125 children and teens who they “adopt” every Christmas.

The Make a Difference Christmas team members pack their cars to deliver wrapped presents to more than 100 kids.

Last year, a 12-year-old girl requested heating oil as her Christmas wish. Because they didn’t have hot water, she and her family usually walked two miles to their grandmother’s house every night. After hearing the girl’s story, Make a Difference delivered 60 gallons of heating oil to their home so that the family could celebrate Christmas in a warm home.

Flood also recalled helping a girl, around the age of 14 or 15, who shared her wish on behalf of her brother. She asked that her brother get braces because he needed them.

“It amazed me. She was so thoughtful and wanted to give that to her sibling instead,” Flood said, mentioning that his team was able to find an orthodontist who could help.

However, the message of Make a Difference Christmas isn’t a day or even a season, according to Flood.

“It’s a way of living, to do good in the world and truly make a difference,” he said, noting that his group’s efforts have helped those in need, year-round, following fires, natural disasters, and other tragedies. “Every day can be a day that you bring joy to someone. We just want to help people get through some of the trials and tribulations that they’re experiencing.”

Amongst its other acts of Christmas kindness, Make a Difference also bought toys for 1,000 additional kids through outreach partners. Susan Carusi, board president of the Grenville Baker Boys and Girls Club on Long Island, said Flood has been able to provide gifts to at least eight children and teens — but as many as 15 — to her club during a single Christmas.

“Whether a child asks for a pair of gloves, an iPad, or whatever else is on their wish list, Make a Difference Christmas fulfills. Dreams do come true for the children that they work with,” Carusi said. “I’m not there when the families open the gifts on Christmas morning because the kids think they’re from Santa. But we’re told by the parents that they’re just shocked and excited. It’s like Santa came through with what they wanted.”

In a similar vein, Bishop Kevin Sweeney — who was still pastor of St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church in Sunset Park last year, prior to becoming bishop in Paterson, New Jersey, in the spring — said reactions from his parishioners are priceless.

“The kids feel that Santa Claus was extra special to them that year,” he told The Tablet. “The parents know that the church is there for them to truly make it a brighter Christmas.”

Bishop Sweeney and Inés Cordero, director of St. Michael’s religious education program, were able to help a 14-year-old and 11-year-old in their parish receive gifts they wanted, thanks to Make a Difference.

“It was a privilege to see the joy on their children’s faces after the parents sent us pictures on Christmas morning,” Bishop Sweeney said. “It’s a great experience to be a part of and we’re so grateful for all the generosity and help that our families receive.”

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