Elise, Jeannine, Ty, Andra and Bill Breshears pose in front of bags that went to local families. St. Philip Benizi is “a small rural parish, but people look out for their neighbors,” said Mary Pattyn, parish business manager.
Elise, Jeannine, Ty, Andra and Bill Breshears pose in front of bags that went to local families. St. Philip Benizi is “a small rural parish, but people look out for their neighbors,” said Mary Pattyn, parish business manager.
OREGON CITY — On Christmas this year, 164 local children from poor and low-income families awoke to treat-stuffed stockings and then shared a holiday feast with their parents, who had a bit less to worry about — for they had a week’s worth of food in the house.

This holiday bounty was not the work of elves or an extra generous Santa but that of parishioners from St. Philip Benizi Church here.

Through the annual Helping Hands program, parishioners ensure a number of area households receive food, gifts and other items during the Christmas season. The parish initiative, at least 25 years old, is organized with assistance from the Oregon City School District. Counselors at each elementary, middle and high school select two families who could use an extra boost.

“This is a small rural parish, but people look out for their neighbors,” said Mary Pattyn, parish business manager. “They like the opportunity to help children in the local area.” This year the parish aided 45 families with kids of all ages.

Parishioners donate items to the parish food pantry year-round, and near Christmas the food is assembled into baskets and bags. With monetary donations, longtime parishioner Jeannine Breshears, 58, purchases additional fresh food for Christmas meals. There are turkeys and hams, fruit baskets, milk, egg, cheese and bread.

“We want to provide enough so they can make a full Christmas dinner,” said Breshears, who with her husband, Bill, have been involved with Helping Hands for more than two decades. They’ve organized it for the past eight.

Typically parishioners find specific gifts for each child on the list, but the pandemic forced some tweaks for safety, and youths received a $50 gift card instead.

Each stocking still was customized based on age and gender. Goodies included candy, hot chocolate packets and granola bars, plus the pragmatic addition of toothpaste and toothbrushes.

Families also receive necessities such as toilet paper, personal hygiene items and dishwashing detergent.

The Breshears family began participating in the large parish effort when the couple’s four children were young.

“It was a great way to train our kids and help them appreciate the satisfaction and grace that comes from giving,” Breshears said.

All still are involved, and the youngest child, Andra, now 23, currently “is instrumental in the project; she’s my right hand in this,” said Breshears. Andra organizes supplies and coordinates the stocking assembly.

A few days before families came to the parish to pick up items, Breshears acknowledged it would be difficult not to hug the recipients this year.

“But I know there will be lots of waving and the gratitude that comes with helping local families in need,” she said.