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How St. Mary 1099 Saved Christmas

In Jesup, Iowa, one local court had fewer volunteers but more families to serve than ever.

Everyone knows it by now: COVID-19 hit Midwestern rural communities hard. Throughout the region, many families struggled with job loss, altered holiday plans, a dark winter, and a difficult Christmas season without money and gifts. Families that experienced the most strife found that necessities were often scarce. For Donna Delagardelle, Youth Director of St. Mary 1099 in Gilbertville, Iowa, there was no other option than to help.

Last year, in Jesup, Iowa – a town located 12 miles east of Gilbertville – there was a collection drive for families in the towns of Jesup, Gilbertville, Littleton, Raymond, and Brandon. Donna and St. Mary 1099 registered the collection drive with Catholic Order of Foresters (COF) as a Feeding God’s Children event.

Then it was time to get to work.

It started with collection boxes placed in stores around Buchanan and Black Hawk Counties where all five towns are located. The goal was for the boxes to fill up with items like canned goods and other essentials. Once the time came to round up the boxes from stores, volunteers would claim each box and return them to St. Athanasius gym where they were handled.

On a Friday and Saturday in December, just like every year in Jesup, the most important part of the event commenced: gathering, sorting, and distributing items from each collection box. “St. Athanasius gym gets reserved on a Friday and Saturday in December,” said Donna, referring to Jesup’s Catholic grade school.

“Volunteers arrived both days to sort items and collect boxes,” said Donna. The pastor at St. Athanasius (or St. A’s, as the locals call it) allowed fewer volunteers this year. “We had limited volunteers due to the pandemic, but we wore masks and tried to maintain distance.”

Although there were fewer hands to help sort and pack items into boxes for families, the increased demand in the wake of the pandemic remained the focus of the collection drive. There was simply no stopping volunteers from getting boxes to families.

In the end, 39 families comprised of 130 people received at least one box of items with canned goods, paper items, and gift cards. They were safe for the winter. “Families of one to three got one big box,” said Donna, “and families of four or more got two boxes. 19 drivers delivered to different families.”

“There were a lot more families to serve than in the past,” she said, explaining that event organizers had contacted Operation Threshold, a nonprofit organization in Iowa, seeking information regarding families that would benefit most from the collection.

“We collected 5,925 pounds with around 1,000 pounds leftover and the leftover items were taken to Buchanan County Food Pantry,” said Donna. “I’m positive we will continue to help them.”

Despite having fewer volunteers, St. Mary 1099 gathered resources to deliver relief to 39 Iowa families in need of a Christmas miracle.

Article by Connor McEleney

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