Co-Cathedral to promote service through Caritas Day

March 25, 2014

HOUSTON — A candy store couldn’t have more choices than the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart’s service projects for this year’s day of service, otherwise known as Caritas Day.

On Saturday, April 5, hundreds of volunteers will be spreading their charity of spirit at local shelters, food pantries, community gardens, hospitals and through projects that will be done on site at the nearby Cathedral Centre, 1701 San Jacinto St., in downtown Houston.

Volunteer tasks include making bean soup bags for local food pantries and creating scrapbook diaries for children at Casa de Esperanza. Community projects range from taking a blind person on a tandem bike ride and weeding a community garden, to hosting a picnic for refugee youth and building wheelchair ramps for the disabled.

“The neat thing about Caritas Day is there’s something for every age,” said Wendy Garaghty, the Co-Cathedral’s outreach coordinator who is organizing the event. “It allows families to serve together and older adults to get involved.”

Though dozens of local agencies and thousands of people will be beneficiaries of these good deeds, Garaghty said the idea is to spur not just one morning of service, but to raise awareness about the community’s needs and engender continued service.

“It empowers our parishioners to know what to do when Jesus comes in front of us, so they can help others,” Garaghty said.

Inspired by the Jewish community’s Mitzvah days, Caritas Day was devised by parishioners to raise awareness of Catholics helping in the community during Lent, to easily access volunteer opportunities and to bring the Catholic community together, according to Garaghty. The event also provides an opportunity for partner agencies, such as Urban Harvest and Catholic Charities, to tell the wider community about what they do, how they serve their clients and how to get involved in volunteering.

If last year is anything to go by, Garaghty expects 500-plus volunteers to sign up for this third annual event and also hopes to attract parishioners from other parishes. The first year there were 300 volunteers, while last year 525 volunteers showed up and served about 12,000 people.

“Our main objective is to connect ordinary people with a volunteer experience and inspire them to do it again,” Garaghty said. It seems to be working.

Rhonda Sepulveda of Catholic Charities said volunteers have returned to help senior citizens clean and mow their yards, even in the heat of the summer, and to help out at St. Michael’s Homes for Children.

In addition, she said they have the opportunity to educate volunteers about their programs, including adoption, foster care and immigration legal services.

“Casa de Esperanza would not exist had it not been for the wonderful volunteers we’ve had over the years, and whenever we have an opportunity to engage potential volunteers we are very excited,” Ashley McFarland of Casa de Esperanza said in an email.

If that were not all, Caritas Day also was the catalyst for the Co-Cathedral’s outreach ministry, formed last March. Garaghty said about 1,200 parishioners have participated in volunteer outreach projects through the ministry.

“In the surveys we had taken and the feedback we received (from Caritas Day), people wanted more,” Garaghty said. This year, the event also includes projects with bilingual leaders in Spanish, Vietnamese, French and Portuguese.