MILWAUKIE — Christmas will be merrier for more than 150 families here thanks to the good work of volunteers at St. John the Baptist Parish. For more than 25 years, the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul ministry has teamed with a Giving Tree ministry to provide food boxes and gifts to families in need in the community.
On Saturday, parishioners will deliver those boxes to households throughout the community. Tucked among those groceries will be Christmas gifts for 290 children.
On Friday morning, volunteers slung bags of potatoes, celery, bread and other holiday meal fixings into individual cardboard boxes. In another room, people sorted brightly wrapped gifts by age group.
“This is a project that requires the help of a lot of people,” said Rick McCann, president of the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul ministry. Don Adams and Ron Dove are among those who help appeal for donations and help coordinate the many volunteers.
Among today’s gift sorters was Ruth Bingold. She helped start the parish’s Giving Tree tradition almost three decades ago. Her husband Leonard “Bud” Bingold was head of the St. Vincent de Paul at the time, and he coordinated the parish’s first holiday food box drive. Ruth wanted to add into the deliveries something special for the children.
At first, she was able to manage the organizing and wrapping of donated gifts in their Southeast Portland home on her own. After a few years, the project grew too large, and women from the St. Francis Guild began to pitch in. Today, a small army of parishioners helps.
Ruth will never forget the year a single mother, struggling to raise two daughters on her own, broke down in tears of gratitude after St. John volunteers dropped off new bikes for the girls.
“It’s so heartwarming,” Ruth said. “It makes you realize that God put us on earth to help other people.”
After Bud died in 2007, Ruth stepped down as lead organizer of the Giving Tree project, but she still assists every year. Parishioner Susan Hays is now the lead organizer of the Giving Tree.
Volunteers from St. Vincent de Paul solicited the many food donations, which come from a variety of sources. Amalgamated Sugar Co. donated bags of sugar; Franz gave bread; Alpenrose Dairy provided milk; and Botsford and Goodfellow donated fruit and vegetables.
The names of families who will receive the boxes are provided by Compassion in Action Clackamas County, an organization that matches service organizations with people in need during the holidays.
“People in this parish are so generous,” Ruth said. “There has never been a shortage of gifts.”