St. Hugh's Bringing Joy to Kids on Christmas
For the past 11 years, the members of St. Hugh's Catholic Church have provided small Christmas miracles in the form of toys to children through the Angel Tree.
What began 11 years ago as a pet project has turned into a tradition for the parishioners and volunteers of St. Hugh's Catholic Church.
"It started as an Angel Tree and before that it was a hat and glove drive, but that fell away, every year our Angel Tree is a huge success, literally every year give away hundreds of toys," Angel Tree organizer John Winfrey said.
Winfrey began heading the Angel Tree in conjunction with the Knights of Columbus at St. Hugh's after he had helped with one at Church of the Ascension in Washington, D.C. Winfrey said he worked with Pastor Thomas Crowley and saw how in that area many children would not have a Christmas without the donations from the effort. He also said it took a while to bring the idea to Greenbelt.
"Ascension stopped doing toys because it became a logistical nightmare for them with storage and they moved to gift cards. We began looking for another resource that we could give them too and at the same time, the rectory at St. Hugh's was getting a higher request locally for toys, so that's where they went," He said. "And then I guess maybe five years ago, my daughter worked as an aid at Frances Fuchs Early Childhood Center where there were some underprivileged kids and we basically discovered through Fuchs and (councilwoman) Silke Pope that there was more need for kids that needed toys in Greenbelt. So two years ago we decided to focus our toys in Greenbelt."
The first year of Greenbelt exclusive Angel Tree, Winfrey was told to keep his expectation low.
"(Crowley) said 'John, let me set the expectation here, the first couple of years it takes some time to build up.' That first year we had four truckloads of toys and I'm not exaggerating, but the generosity that we get from this area is absolutely remarkable," Winfrey.
This year, the church will provide toys for about 45 Greenbelt families. Winfrey said that weeks before Thanksgiving, he gets questions from parishioners about when they're starting the Angel Tree and what they need. The tree officially went up the weekend of Thanksgiving and the toys are sorted later on Dec. 20. Donated toys must be unwrapped and non-violent. Each child on their list gets three toys each, but if there are extra toys after the sorting, the group gives them to area Toys-For-Tots and other parishes.
Up until this year, the toys have come from parishioners exclusively but they provided a box for donations at Curves and the Greenbelt Co-op Supermarket and Pharmacy. They also have ten more kids to help this year.
"We get about 250-300 toys every year. If you translate that into kids smiles on Christmas morning, it's worth every moment of it," Winfrey said.