October and November has been an extremely busy time at Gethsemane.
The first major task is the preparation of gift parcels. Nine schools do this for nine facilities which include 550 people. The schools collect the material, pack the parcels using the bags they’ve received from Gethsemane with the names of each recipient, and then they deliver the packages personally to the clients in their designated facilities.
All of the rest have to be collected sorted and put into the appropriate parcels by a few volunteers in a limited area under the house at Gethsemane. Many people have been collecting the toiletry items that go into these parcels for the remaining 70+ places and groups, which focus on the special needs of these groups. Many schools assist by students of the various classes collecting simple toiletries that would be suitable for any of the groups, some other older groups collect specific toiletries including such things as quality razor blades and deodorants for the men as well as perfume for the women.
In many cases there is insufficient material and more toiletries have to be purchased, a local chemist is very generous, obtaining items from various sources at cost price and other items they provide at cut prices. Sweets are bought at various shops particularly when there are any sales, a range is needed to cover the different needs and likes of the disparate groups. Quite a number are diabetic and need special sugar free sweets, then there are older people in the nursing homes who prefer soft sweets whereas the young people in the group homes prefer the opposite. All preferences are met as these are part of the special part of the gift which also contains some personal item suitable for each person.
As each group is completed, the bags for the individuals are clearly marked and are placed in boxes which volunteers deliver to the given place so that they can be stored ready for distribution on Christmas Day. The toiletry packages, for most of the set places, are completed by early November but there are still packages to done for some individuals and those who come to lunch on Christmas Day.
The emphasis then changes to developing food hampers. Large washing baskets full of Christmas cheer and other food are prepared for the Boarding Houses and the group homes. The focus then is on the many people who live alone and have very little access to food over the Christmas period. On top of food of Christmas cheer they are also provided with many small tins of meat or tuna, tea bags and more to get them through the holiday period. These tins have been provided by many volunteers.
The next task of the Christmas Project is to organise the Christmas card drive. Over 1,200 people are in the groups listed above and they each receive up to 10 personally addressed Christmas Cards on Christmas day, provided by various schools, parishes and other religious groups.
The final task is to provide a special Christmas dinner prepared at Gethsemane with the help of volunteers and served to about 75 people who live alone or in difficult situations, several of these have carers who are included at the table. Other volunteers serve the lunch. The hams are delivered each year by a group of Catholic Educational Staff and others make themselves available to deliver food or pick people up. Any food left over is taken to some of the nearby boarding houses and other institutions who really appreciate some more cake, pudding, ham or salad for their clients.