Catholic Sentinel photo by Clarice Keating
Meredith Zubel advocates for even the tiniest tree, as well as for L'Arche.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Clarice Keating
Meredith Zubel advocates for even the tiniest tree, as well as for L'Arche.

Joy can’t be found in things – it comes from people.

It’s a timely message during the Christmas season, when consumerism threatens to overshadow the true meaning of the holiday, and it’s one Meredith Zubel saw demonstrated in the first days she visited the L’Arche homes.

It was 2006, and she had just graduated from college. Zubel was accustomed to executing her schoolwork (and life) with precision and perfection, and then she encountered the communal and joyous and sometimes-messy culture of L’Arche.

“I’d just spent four years dotting every ‘I’ and crossing every ‘T’,” said Zubel, now 28. “But at L’Arche, the furniture didn’t match and there were French fries on the floor, but there was so much joy.”

L’Arche, a Catholic-inspired ministry, creates communities of people with disabilities and people without. The groups live together and members help each other grow personally, socially and spiritually.  

Zubel, originally from Indiana, moved to Portland in 2006 to serve as a live-in assistant, a job she continued through 2011. Today, she lives in Southwest Portland, but continues to work with L’Arche. This time of year, she is lot manager for the organization’s well-known Christmas tree sale fundraiser.

Through Dec. 20, locally grown Noble and Douglas fir trees are sold at two locations —Northeast 44th and Hancock streets in the Hollywood neighborhood and Southeast 82nd and Burnside streets in the Montavilla area.

In each of the two L’Arche homes, there are four core members (adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities) and three assistants (caregivers) who share life with them. There are others, like Zubel’s role today, who participate in daily life of the community, but do not live in the homes.

These people liven up the holidays in the L’Arche community. They invite residents to parties and accompany the group as they visit Santa; they stop by with treats or just to say “Merry Christmas.”

Each Advent season, Zubel looks forward to the simple Christmas Eve dinner, a meal of soup and bread, followed by a sharing of the Nativity story.

Lisa Ciranny, who provides live-in support at the homes, said one of Zubel’s biggest gifts to the L’Arche residents is her quiet presence.

“She’s about being in the moment, being present for those around her,” Ciranny said. Those qualities are especially important to help anchor core members during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

Zubel employs the same presence and gentle kindness as she covers shifts at the L’Arche lots. If it’s raining, she greets tree-seekers at the entrance with an umbrella, and shoppers are offered hot beverages and tales of how their purchases help the L’Arche mission.

The lots’ first two weekends in December experienced record-breaking sales this year, a testament to the care shown by Zubel and her team of dedicated volunteers.

Proceeds from sales fill in gaps to assure the highest quality of life and care for all of the members of the homes and provide health insurance for the assistants and other staff members.