Story submitted by Mary Lampugnano of St. Francis of Assisi Parish
Christmastime is a time of giving and of joy. Organizations come together to sponsor projects in their communities to help the needy or to bring joy to children by bringing gifts for underprivileged children. Many churches participate in this tradition, but at St. Francis of Assisi in Fairfield Glade, this tradition has become a legacy.
More than 25 years ago, parishioner Ethel Wagner set up a Christmas tree in the church foyer and began collecting winter hats, gloves, mittens, socks, and underwear to give to teachers at Pleasant Hill Elementary School. Ethel knew that many children came to school without warm clothing during the winter months. And she knew, too, that teachers often purchased these kinds of items for children out of their own pockets, often at considerable cost. In fact, most teachers spend in excess of $500 each year on school supplies and clothing for children who lack them.
Ethel had a reputation at St. Francis. . . she was a dynamic and determined woman who had a way about her that motivated others to do good works. She inspired others to help in many of her projects, always in ways that glorified God and gave help where help was needed. The Christmas tree project became a regular exhibition each year, and she worked tirelessly to make it a success.
In 2010, Ethel passed away at the age of 92, but her spirit lives on at St. Francis of Assisi Church and in the service projects she initiated. The giving project she started— now fondly referred to as “Ethel’s Tree”—continues despite her death. Parishioners, inspired by Ethel’s selflessness, continued to put up the tree every Christmas and gather winter hats and gloves and mittens and socks, just like Ethel had done for so many years.
In 2017, St. Francis’ Council of Catholic Women expanded the project from one school to currently serving eight elementary schools in Cumberland County and to include donations of school supplies and personal items for children needing them. Each year, organizers contact the schools and request a list of needed supplies. This list is passed on to parishioners, who place the donated items under Ethel’s Tree or make monetary donations that are used to purchase needed supplies.
When the tree is taken down, the donated items are sorted based on the individual school’s request, and items are delivered when school opens after the Christmas recess. School staff members are amazed and appreciative of the generosity shown them.
Terry Renaud and Sharon Stevens, current co-chairs of the venture, are proud to spearhead this project in memory of Ethel. “Ethel’s Tree is near and dear to our hearts” said Terry. “We are very blessed in Fairfield Glade, but others in our community are not. It is very rewarding to be part of a faith community that cares about others and gives so generously.”
No doubt, Ethel Wagner would be pleased with the legacy she leaves behind.