By Sara Tewksbury and Jason Lee
Saint Thomas More Parish (STM) in Hauppauge dedicated its annual Lenten collection, which raised over $4,000 during the Lenten season –from February 10 to Easter — to help Syrian Refugees living in poverty overseas.
The money collected, was pledged to the Catholic Relief Service (CRS), an international outreach group that, Father Antony Asir announced on the church’s website early in February.
“Every lent we have a service project,” Mary Ellen Carroll, a representative of STM said. “In the past we’ve given to the Appalachian project and we’ve given money to guide dogs to help returning military injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. This year the decision was made to help CRS, and that was in response to what the pope has said, urging all Catholics to open their hearts to refugees.”
STM collected $4,000 so far Carroll said, but parishioners will have until after Easter to donate. Many donations were collected in the community using rice-bowls, which are cardboard boxes with slots which people put coins and dollar bills into.
“For Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey we provide emergency relief. That is giving people clothes and shoes and blankets to get them through winter,” Nikki Gamer, a spokesperson for CRS said. “The other part of our work is education for Syrian refugee children.”
In mass, on March 27, Don Freidman, said that the Church’s decision to prioritize Syrian outreach made sense. “I think it’s a terrific idea, It gets all of us involved,” Freidman, from Smithtown, said. “I think most people know what’s happening in terms of refugees. Can we do more? Sure we can.”
However, Tim Mchale, a parishioner from Hauppauge had a different opinion on the Long Island church’s alms giving. “I feel there is a lot more that can be done right here rather than sending money overseas, not that it isn’t an important issue,” Mchale said.
From the perspective of the CRS, the world is more inclined to help than not. “We have seen an increase in donations… contrary to what you might think with all the political rhetoric happening against refugees,” Gamer said.
“I’ve been to Jordan and Lebanon and I’ve met refugees; they are mothers and children,” Gamer said. “These are people just like you and me that happen to be stuck in the middle of the conflict.”
“More than half of refugees in the Middle East are children and most of them have been out of school for years. As the crisis continues that is one of our main focuses, making sure kids are able to learn,” Gamer said. “You go into these classrooms, and the kids are so excited to be in class and be in an environment where they can feel like normal kids again.”