Within the past two months Catholic Charities opened two emergency shelters for the homeless. Pasco Family Shelter in Port Richey opened October 20th for homeless families in Pasco County. Tampa Hope opened on December 13th for homeless men and women residents of the City of Tampa.
Both groups celebrated Christmas Day on December 25th but the day dawned earlier for one group than the other. Christmas Day began at 6:00 am in the dark, with Bay News 9 reporter, Ashley Page, and her cameraman. They were there to capture the joy of children who would be celebrating their Christmas in a safe place they call home temporarily until they find their true homes, and with presents from their parents that were donated by a former Catholic Charities client, Donna Miller, a Clearwater-based realtor with Coldwell Banker.
By 7:00 am, 5-year-old Leland was up and squealing with excitement at the many, wrapped presents under the Christmas Tree (also donated). Like most excited children he woke up his siblings, Jaylen (7) and Riley (1), and his mom, Stephanie. They had never seen so many presents. The excitement was palpable. The two staff members present watched with joy, one with tears in his eyes. Riley, after leaving her favorite new doll, became infatuated with the reporter’s microphone and the camera’s lens!
Everyone enjoyed a special continental breakfast and later in the day, when all the torn wrappers were picked up and thrown out and toys placed in their rooms, enjoyed a special Christmas dinner of ham, green beans, mashed potatoes and more, also donated by Ms. Miller. Said Donna about why she gives back, “I was like these people. And someone helped me. Catholic Charities. Now that I can help, I want to help make their lives better.”
Thirty miles southeast, east of Ybor City, fifty men and women slept in. There was a Christmas Tree, but no Christmas presents to open. Breakfast and coffee were available as always. For this group, there was no excitement in the air. But there was a restful gratitude. No worrying about being cold or where their meal would come from with most retail stores closed as they typically are on Christmas Day. As the sun rose, most rose with it.
The Christmas meal was donated by Catholic Charities board member, Dr. Jerry Kluft, DMD. Before the 2:00 pm meal, Monsignor Morris, President of Catholic Charities Board of Trustees, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Clearwater and Vicar General of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, conducted a Christmas Service for residents, who sang carols like ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ and ‘Joy to the World’, and listened attentively to Msgr. Morris’ call for everyone to come to know Jesus Christ as their and the world’s one savior. Said one resident who wished to remain nameless, “A day like today shows us people care. We may be homeless but like the priest said, we are still children of God.”