In Her Own Words: Sister Ann Helene Koenig
The Christmas Gift Project, also known as the Santa Claus Project, began in 1983 while I was a Principal at St. Agnes School and Parish in the Buffalo area.
My telephone rang one day; a representative from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Cheektowaga wanted to know if I knew of some families who needed gifts at Christmas time. The hospital staff and employees were doing a service project and they wanted to provide gifts, and she felt that as a principal, I would know families who would appreciate the assistance.
I immediately thought of families BUT how would I present this idea to the parents? I didn’t want them to feel needy; rather I wanted them to feel that THEY were doing me a favor by accepting the gifts. This is how the Holy Spirit guided me:
- I was very positive presenting the idea to the parents.
- I said Santa made too many gifts and he wanted to bring the extras to St. Agnes Convent. I told the parents that the gifts needed a new home.
- The parents would be doing the sisters a favor by taking the gifts so we could decorate our Convent. We needed the room.
- If they were interested, all we needed was the first name of the child(ren), their age, their size, and their favorite color.
- I told the parents when the gifts would be brought to their home or available at the Convent for pickup.
- If the parents were interested, I would follow up with a letter with all the details.
- We also said that the only people to know would be themselves and the sisters. Everything would be confidential.
The parents I contacted were THRILLED.
That was the start — first with gifts from St. Joseph’s Hospital, then two insurance companies, one Parish, one Parish School, the Knights of St. John, and individuals who learned of our project, and then and then…
When the parish and school closed in 2007, we were invited to remain at St. Agnes Convent by the wonderful Buddhist Community who are the new owners. So, we are still living among the people of East Lovejoy on Buffalo’s east side where there are a great many families in need of assistance, especially during the holidays. Soon our Convent will look like the North Pole and the sisters and I become Christmas elves, praying with the people who bring the gifts and food baskets, thanking them personally for their kind and gracious hearts. Then we begin our mission of delivering the gifts.
Our Santa Gift Project continues through the kindness and generosity of others and the helpfulness of the sisters I live with here at St. Agnes Convent. In this way, we are reminded of the Gospel message of St. Francis telling his followers to love one another, to give to others in need and help them…FOR IT IS IN GIVING THAT WE RECEIVE.