Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

101416 coat drivejpgThe warmth of mercy

HENDERSONVILLE — Making sure those who live in the mountain town of Hendersonville have coats to wear and blankets to keep them warm at night is a priority for one parishioner of Immaculate Conception Church.

Jo-Ann Kelly started the coat and blanket drive at their parish about 15 years ago when she noticed the need.

“The winters can be darn cold over here in the mountains,” Kelly said. “I’ve seen children going into school without jackets or just a flannel. People that can barely afford the heat in their homes.

“You know how it feels when you’re cold. I can only imagine what it feels like to be cold in bed all night or all the time. It must be terrible.”

The new and gently-used coats of all sizes and winter blankets donated by parishioners are now given to the Interfaith Assistance Ministry’s Crisis Center to distribute to those in need, Kelly said.

Pictured: Capuchin Franciscan Father Martin Schratz joins volunteers from Immaculate Conception Church in Hendersonville to collect hundreds of coats and blankets for a local interfaith assistance ministry to distribute to the needy before temperatures drop this fall. (Photo provided by Jo-Ann Kelly)

Immaculate Conception Church was one of the founding members of Interfaith Assistance Ministry, a collaborative effort of churches in the area to help those in need, said Capuchin Franciscan Father Martin Schratz, pastor. They offer emergency funds, food, clothing and referrals to other community agencies to those in crisis.

“Instead of each church community working to help on our own, we work together,” he said. There are more than 100 volunteers from the parish involved.

“There are a lot of homeless in Hendersonville, and lots of homeless teens. We have a lot of poor, migrants in our community.” Father Schratz said. “People are here at church on an almost daily basis for assistance. It’s just being Christ for them. It’s a way to reach out to them to help meet their needs.”

This year’s drive netted three vanfuls of warm coats and blankets, Kelly said.

“We’ve never collected less than three vanfuls,” she said. “The people of Immaculate Conception Church are very giving. People in our church work very hard to do what Jesus asks us to do. We’re very generous.

“It’s very simple,” she said. “People are cold and people in our church want to try to prevent that.”

The parish also organizes a Christmas gift drive for local non-profits to distribute, in addition food drives and other ways to aid the community, Father Schratz said.

While Pope Francis has emphasized helping those less fortunate for the Year of Mercy, Father Schratz said it’s not something that ends when the Jubilee Year ends Nov. 20.

“I hope people realize that the Year of Mercy is just not a ‘do good now and stop’ kind of thing. Rather, it’s something that hopefully will extend after the Year of Mercy is over. People need God’s mercy, help and love all the time,” he said.

The Year of Mercy is about bringing awareness to the needs and how others can help. And hopefully these things will continue long after the Year of Mercy has ended, he said.

— Kimberly Bender, Online reporter