By Adam Drapcho
LACONIA — With all of the parties, family gatherings, religious services and gift shopping, it's easy to get caught up in one's own little world in the holiday season. That's why Marie and David Ludwick of Center Harbor have made efforts to assist others an intrinsic part of their family's Christmas experience.
It started about 30 years ago, Marie said, when the family went on a church-sponsored missions trip to Haiti.
"It just made me much more appreciative of how fortunate we were," she said.
She also realized that, although the problem of poverty is overwhelming when considered on a global scale, it was still possible for her to make a positive difference in someone's life. Since then, she has made sure to open the world of service to her children, and now her grandchildren. This year, she and her grandsons, Gabe and Koen Staples, went to a drug store to purchase personal care goods, which they sorted into bags and delivered them to the Carey House, a homeless shelter in Laconia operated by the Salvation Army.
The personal care bags won't solve the problem of homelessness in the Lakes Region, but, said Marie, they will help someone through a difficult time. Her mantra, which she hopes to impress upon Gabe and Koen, is: "Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something."
The Ludwicks aren't alone in their tradition. Leonard Campbell, parish and community services coordinator of New Hampshire Catholic Charities, said many families will reach out to his organization each year. Sometimes they might purchase items that are in need at that time, others will do what he termed "adopt a family," wherein they will purchase a list of gifts, ensuring that there will be merriment on Christmas morning. The gifts are given anonymously, with Campbell acting as the liaison in the middle.
"It's really remarkable, we have a very generous town, a very generous city," he said.
Although the items are appreciated, and often needed, by the recipients, Campbell said the greater value is found in the symbolism of the gesture. "It is giving the people that are receiving it hope. Hope that people care, but also that things can be different."
Campbell said that his organization has already met its clients' needs for Christmas this year, but encouraged anyone who wanted to participate in next year's holiday assistance to contact his organization. Or, for suggestions on other organizations active in their own community that could use help, he recommended asking a local welfare office or police department.
Those who don't want to wait until next Christmas can contact St. Vincent de Paul, located on Union Avenue in Laconia. The all-volunteer organization operates a thrift store, food pantry and children's assistance program, and provides financial assistance to residents in Laconia and surrounding communities. Erika Johnson, president and store manager, said there are about 135 volunteers at St. Vincent de Paul, and they frequently will bring children in to help.
"I think it's important for people to do that, so that the whole family knows about the needy in the area," she said.
If a person or family wanted to do something for this holiday season, Johnson suggested starting by contacting someone helping to deliver a service, such as one of the managers at St. Vincent de Paul.
Jo Carignan, manager of the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry, said she would welcome any sort of donation. "Anything and everything you'd put on your table, someone else would put on theirs."
However, she added that donations of hours would be just as welcome as donations of goods.
"We need volunteers as bad as anything right now, especially on Wednesday nights," she said.
Johnson said volunteers would be appreciated in the thrift store as well.
A cashier at the thrift store, June Huot has brought her son and daughter in to volunteer with her.
"Until I came here," she said, "I had no idea how much need there was in this community, and how much good this organization does."
St. Vincent de Paul's food pantry assists about 300 families each month, a figure which has doubled over the past 13 years. Proceeds from the thrift store, which Johnson said is open to the general public, help fund the food pantry and other charitable endeavors.
Johnson, a grandmother, enjoys seeing young volunteers come in to the store or food pantry. For many of them, it's the first time they've realized that there are neighbors and classmates who live a very different life.
"They live in a bubble," said Johnston. "Everybody doesn't have what they want. I want them to be able to see what's around them. I think coming in here, it really opens up their eyes."
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