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Betty Thomas, left, received gifts and food Dec. 15 from Bob Buck, a member of the Men’s Group at Ascension parish in Chesterfield. The group distributed goods to seniors living in poverty at Alexian Court Apartments.
Betty Thomas, left, received gifts and food Dec. 15 from Bob Buck, a member of the Men’s Group at Ascension parish in Chesterfield. The group distributed goods to seniors living in poverty at Alexian Court Apartments.
Photo Credit: Jerry Naunheim Jr. for the St. Louis Review

Ascension Parish volunteers bring Christmas cheer to seniors in south St. Louis

Volunteers from Ascension Parish partner with Guardian Angel Settlement Association to deliver food, gifts

Inside a large multipurpose room at Guardian Angel Settlement Association, a crowd of men lingered around a sea of tables filled with brightly colored bags and wrapped gifts.

These “Guardian Angels” were preparing for a special Christmas mission early on a weekday morning in December. They were to deliver presents and food to 158 seniors throughout south St. Louis.

Reona Wise, the new CEO of the Guardian Angel Settlement Association, prayed Dec. 15 with staff and volunteers from Ascension Parish in Chesterfield who distributed gifts and food to seniors living in poverty. The goods were organized and provided by the Guardian Angel Settlement Association.
Photo Credits: Jerry Naunheim Jr. for the St. Louis Review
Volunteers from Ascension Parish in Chesterfield, with a few friends from nearby parishes, have called this their Christmas tradition for nearly 20 years. Each December, Guardian Angel Settlement Association — founded in the mid-19th century by the Daughters of Charity — partners with donors and organizations to provide food and gifts to seniors for Christmas.

“These guys look at the opportunity to do this to bring a little love and a little joy to the seniors,” said Ascension parishioner Larry Cramberg, who organized nearly 40 volunteers for this year’s effort. “It helps them to get their season started as well.”

There was a buzz in the room as the men assembled into groups and checked their recipient lists to make sure that every gift and every bag of food was accounted for. Guardian Angel Settlement Association’s new CEO, Reona Wise, stopped in to say a word of thanks and offer a prayer before the men departed.

“I have heard such amazing things about the continued support that happens every year for this wonderful program,” said Wise, who started with the agency in November. “I have been watching these gifts get wrapped, and it was serious — they were labeling them and making sure that everything was organized. And you can tell that everything was being done in love.”

The Christmas program is a way to “let people know that during this season there are people that are still thinking of them and want to make sure that they have joy and peace, and make sure they know there is support on the other side,” Wise said.

Bob Buck, Keith Gero and Paul Barrath of Ascension Parish loaded up their truck and made the trek a few blocks over to the Alexian Court Apartments. Their first stop was the third floor to see resident Aaron Parker, where they delivered a bag of food with a Cornish hen, mashed potato mix, canned corn and green beans and other fixings, along with a Christmas present.

“Merry Christmas,” the three cheerfully greeted Parker.

Aaron Parker, left, received gifts and food Dec. 15 from Paul Barrath and Keith Gero, members of the Men’s Group at Ascension Parish in Chesterfield.
Photo Credits: Jerry Naunheim Jr. for the St. Louis Review
“Oh, I need this,” he said with a laugh as the men handed him a jug of laundry detergent. “I really appreciate it.”

Parker moved to Alexian Court six years ago after some health concerns prompted him to return to St. Louis from California, where he had been working as an advocate for people with disabilities. He also previously was a teacher for St. Louis Public Schools and was a professional musician — including saxophone and keyboard — studying with noted piccolo/flutist Jan Gippo of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra when he was in college.

Last year was Parker’s first time participating in Guardian Angel’s senior Christmas program, after learning about it from a friend. “They play a vital part in completing the community,” he said of the agency. “I don’t consider myself destitute, but every little bit helps, especially in this economy.”

Parker believes there are a lot of good social service programs in St. Louis, but the challenge is informing people about what’s available.

“We’ve kind of lost the community,” Keith Gero said, agreeing with Parker’s assessment. “Communities used to take care of each other, but now we’re all scattered all over the place.”

On the first floor, volunteers stopped at Betty Thomas’ apartment to deliver gifts. Bob Buck cheerfully greeted her at the door and asked how she was doing.

“I’m feeling alright with the good Lord’s assistance,” she said with a smile, as Buck offered to place a Christmas ham in her refrigerator.

Giving each other a hug, the two wished one another a Merry Christmas.

“Merry Christmas to you, and happy New Year,” Thomas said.

“May the love of Jesus be with you today,” Buck replied.

Buck began volunteering with the Christmas effort in 2008. Several years later while delivering gifts, he slipped on ice and broke his leg. But he keeps coming back year after year and wouldn’t have it any other way.

“At the end of the day, you’re going to look back and you’re going to see something that’s pretty special in terms of the joy you can share with people — and maybe a little nudge for the community as a whole,” he said.

>> Guardian Angel Settlement Association

Founded in St. Louis in 1859 by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul as the House of the Guardian Angel, to serve “orphaned and friendless girls over 12 years of age.” Sponsorship of the agency was transferred from the Archdiocese of St. Louis to the Daughters of Charity in 1865.

Today, the agency offers childcare programs and services at its Child Development Center in the Vandeventer neighborhood of north St. Louis and social services in the south St. Louis area, including emergency rental, utility and food assistance, senior services, self-sufficiency programs and a self-select food pantry.

Donations of nonperishable food items, including canned meats and hygiene and household products are especially needed beyond the holiday season. For more information or to learn how to donate, visit gasastl.org.

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