Holiday gifts of love from the kitchen

Joan Ferris spent most of her life on Pittsburgh’s North Side, walking to Mass at Saint Peter Parish and attending dances in the church hall.

When her husband, William, passed in 2009, she moved to the North Hills. Today, at age 82, Joan doesn’t get out much and felt she had lost touch with her faith community.

But her new parish, Christ Our Savior on the North Side, didn’t forget about her.

Ferris was among hundreds of older parishioners who received home-delivered dinners for Thanksgiving and Christmas, prepared by 50 volunteers. The outreach mirrored similar efforts in other parishes over the holidays.

“I was very touched. It was a lovely thing,” Ferris said. “It made me feel connected to my parish.”

Pastoral associate Mary Swindal, whose ministry focuses on care of the elderly, wanted to express gratitude to seniors who helped to build the parish and its predecessors.

“They have given so much,” she said. “Service to others is a source of light and hope, and a reminder of God’s enduring love.”

Christ Our Savior volunteers cooked 177 Thanksgiving dinners of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, topped off with cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie for dessert.

Christmas dinner was even bigger—210 helpings of ham, scalloped potatoes, green beans almondine, cornbread and fruit. Parishioners baked or bought some 2,000 cookies, and donated poinsettias.

“Cooking, for me, is love,” parishioner Denise Chulack said. “When we’re feeding someone, we’re making them happy.” Added volunteer Tom Griffin, “It was very organized and a lot of fun. People who received the dinners were ecstatic.”

“While the pandemic has brought about many challenges, it has also provided so many opportunities for us to be blessings to one another, and these dinners are among them,” said Father Nick Vaskov, pastor. “We started by asking, ‘How can we do this?’ and now we wonder, ‘How can we stop?’ The joy of serving our seniors has become infectious.”

Father Nick Vaskov with volunteers packing Thanksgiving dinners for delivery to Christ Our Savior parishioners.

Members of Holy Family Parish in Oakmont, Plum and Verona assembled gift bags that included pastries, cookies, candy, crackers, fruit and a small ornament of the Holy Family.

Volunteer Faith Sisk said they delivered the gifts at Christmastime to 258 homebound people in and outside their parish boundaries. Despite the pandemic, “the team felt it was important to carry on with the spirit of Christmas,” she said.

One recipient remarked, “This gift of joy was a ray of sunshine in a very dreary year.” A volunteer added, “People were so grateful and happy to see us, it truly warmed our hearts.”

At Christ the Savior Parish, the Boy Scouts helped to deliver dinners and students at Northside Catholic Assumption Academy made placemats. Now the volunteers are preparing to cook up a Saint Valentine’s Day celebration.

Chulack is looking forward to it. “It just makes you feel good to do something for someone else,” she said.

Holy Family parishioners Lynn Verratt (left) and Faith Sisk prepare Christmas gift bags.