Diocesan News

Ss. Joachim & Anne Students Help Migrants Have a Bright Christmas

Students collect soup for Souper Bowl Sunday. The cans will be given to the Ss. Joachim & Anne/St. Vincent
de Paul Food Pantry in Queens Village. (Photo: Courtesy of Linda Freebes)

QUEENS VILLAGE — The students at Ss. Joachim and Anne School in Queens have always opened up their hearts to those less fortunate, and this year is no exception. 

With migrants coming into the Diocese of Brooklyn in increasing numbers, the Queens Village school has made a special effort to open its doors to newly-arrived children. Principal Linda Freebes believes it is their mission to help in every way they can. 


“With our Superintendent Deacon Kevin McCormack encouraging schools to help educate migrant children who are here in Queens and Brooklyn, we want to help these families, because, after all, we are the Diocese of Immigrants,” she said. “We made every effort we could to have clothes such as pajamas and toiletries to help them when they arrived.” 

Freebes has been an educator for 48 years, having taught at St. Matthias Catholic Academy in Ridgewood, before moving to Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (now Divine Mercy), then St. Fortunata in East New York, which has since closed. For the last 32 years, she has been the principal at Ss. Joachim and Anne. 

Freebes explained that the school had taken up a collection last January and deposited it all at the Immaculate Conception Center, then conducted another drive for the Little Sisters of the Poor, who filled 20 boxes and bags of much-needed toiletries, paper towels, tissues, and other basic necessities. 

“No sooner had we given that all out than five migrant families from Ecuador approached us and wanted to enroll their children at Ss. Joachim and Anne,” Freebes explained. “That’s when the doors opened up, and we took the children in and gave them uniforms and books, while also supplying the families with everything they needed.” 

Ss. Joachim and Anne is also the place where the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s food pantry is located, and the school’s teachers’ room is always filled with food for people who stop by every week for groceries, blankets and other items which the teachers in the school help supply. This year, migrant families make up the majority of those seeking aid. 

But this is not the first time the Ss. Joachim and Anne school community has come to the aid of the displaced and disenfranchised. Freebes, who noted that 70% of the parish’s congregation is Haitian, recalls taking in 60 students after the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. 

She said that it feels like déjà vu and that what happened nearly 15 years ago is repeating itself in another culture. 

She credits the kindness of the members of the parish, who, upon learning that the school was aiding the migrants, came to help by bringing coats and other necessary essentials: “When God opened those doors, and the children came, the teachers, our students, and their families all joined together to make sure they had everything they needed.” 

The school even had some leftover uniforms they were able to distribute to the new students. Freebes called it an overwhelming experience helping the migrants, who she said were initially frightened and felt like fish out of water. 

Ss. Joachim and Anne’s history of helping continues with a contribution from the Bright Christmas fund, which helps them help others. 

And now, with Christmas fast approaching, Freebes appreciates the support that will assist her school in helping to provide toys for the children. 

Bright Christmas began under the leadership of Deacon Don Zirkel, former editor of The Tablet, in the 1960s, when there was a booming movement to help inner-city children. At that time, the fund consisted of a few thousand dollars, distributed throughout the parishes in the diocese so children could partake in a Christmas celebration. 

Pastors, parish administrators, and directors of diocesan groups seeking assistance this Christmas should contact The Tablet as soon as possible. The campaign grants funds only to those parish groups and outreach efforts within the Diocese of Brooklyn that request help to brighten this holy season, focused on the most important gifts of family and faith. 

Freebes is anxiously anticipating the 100th anniversary of Ss. Joachim and Anne this coming year and credits the school’s loyal and dedicated alumni for helping the school survive through difficult times. 

“There were times when I thought the school might not survive,” she said, “but when I called on the alumni, they came through with the support and funds to help keep us going.” 

Freebes said she was thankful for Father Nixon Jean- François, and the pastors of Ss. Joachim and Anne who preceded him, for supporting the school. 

“And we are also very grateful to The Tablet and the Bright Christmas contributions,” she added, “which truly help us make Christmas brighter for all the children in our parish.”