Associates and Sisters in St. Louis are helping to make the holidays merry and bright for 150 seniors who reside at Catholic Charities St. Joseph Apartments. For Thanksgiving, the Associates assembled treat bags brimming with candy along with cards to distribute to the residents. Each envelope was decorated by hand by an Associate, and signed, “The Dominican Sisters and Associates are thinking of you.”
For Christmas, the Associates organized a sing-along social; with residents contributing hors d'oeuvres and, Associates and Sisters brought desserts. With Margaret Bush leading on guitar, the Associates and Sisters led a rocking good, holly and jolly sing-along. Sister Chris Gamache, OP a regular senior volunteer, reported that the residents were excited about this occasion, noting the event was hugely popular and well attended. The seniors stated they wanted to come and share time with the Associates and Sisters.
This tremendous community-building depends on the leadership of Associates: Kathy Hof, Gwen Tresch, Katie Patterson, Mary Ann Speno, Regina Scherer, and Lynn Tustanowsky. Our Associates and Sisters work, play, and pray together. It also is beneficial that the leaders, Kathy Hof and Sister Chris Gamache are biological siblings united in their commitment to serving seniors. They have a great team of Sisters and Associates on board to help the cause, plus many of their extended family members. Kathy retired and joined the Associates about 10 years ago. (It has been so natural that she can’t quite remember how long.) She said, “I like to do little things.”
Sister Chris worked at St. Joseph Apartments as an RA (Resident Assistant) for 5 years and then lived there for another 5 years and ministers as a volunteer. This holiday outreach started back in 2020 during COVID-19 on a dreary and cold Valentine’s Day when people were stuck in their apartments. Sister Chris started making hearts with pockets and stuffing them with candy for delivery to the 30 residents on her floor.
Kathy Hof heard about it and was all in. She gathered a group of Associates and Sisters in the effort. The Associates' donations of cards and candy let the residents know that someone was thinking about them. It grew and expanded to other holidays. Associate Gwen Tresch organizes the Thanksgiving outreach with assistance from the group in packing candy. Gwen hands off the gifts to Kathy for distribution to more than 150 of the residents.
For Christmas, Kathy makes a small gift to give out, such as an ornament. One year she made Christmas stockings in the shape of gnomes (of course, filled with candy.) Kathy reports being inspired by the example of her mom who also made gifts for the neighbors in her residence—even though she was 87 when she moved in. When Kathy’s daughter found out why her mom wanted everyone’s extra candy from Halloween, she joined in the effort full force. She said, “Mom, why do you want all this candy?” She told her two daughters, who were 6 and 4 at the time, and they enthusiastically donated their candy to the cause. So, when Kathy invited her grandchildren to help fill the stockings, they were happy to help out. They also help with the delivery, which is appreciated because the halls of St. Joseph are very long. Kathy said, “I’m trying to instill in them what our mother has instilled in us.”
The Christmas sing-along event was intiated after one Associates’ gathering when Kathy was speaking with Margaret Bush and Lynn Tustanowsky. Lynn and Margaret shared how they and their choir caroled for the residents in non-subsidized housing and offered to extend it to the subsidized units. Many Sisters and Associates joined in the fun and brought cookies with their voices. Kathy said, “We just sang and sang and sang, and more and more people kept joining us. Residents had tears in their eyes and reported that no one had been at a celebration such as this in 5 years.
This has turned into a large gathering and an opportunity to let people know someone cares. The residents who do not know Chris is a Dominican Sister meet her in the halls and say things such as, “It was so nice to be thought of;” or “I just needed that piece of chocolate today!” or “It just made my day!” So many people share positive responses that a summer sing-along is in the planning.
Sister Chris said, “I can tell you the people’s reactions were touching. It brought our charism of Dominican joy to the place and I am so grateful for that with the Sisters and Associates working together.”
This outreach effort is helping many of the St. Joseph’s residents who have no family or community connection. Residents who live in the subsidized apartments are often poor and live simply. Some people even come without the necessities to live, but people in the building help each other. With reports of such despair and loneliness in the world, what could be more important than spreading good cheer, love, and friendship in our world? The St. Louis Associates and Sisters are indeed responding to a world in need of healing, renewal, peace, and compassion through their ministry at the St. Joseph Apartments.