Youth group surprises parishioners on Feast of St. Nicholas

Lindsay Steele
Kristy and Kelsey Diianni prepare gift baskets for older and homebound members of St. Patrick Parish-Iowa City Dec. 6 outside the church.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

IOWA CITY — Ed Villhauer keeps busy as custodial and maintenance director for St. Patrick Parish, but he has been sidelined since undergoing shoulder surgery a couple months ago.

He will resume his duties in a limited manner in a few weeks, but being homebound temporarily has given him a better understanding of what some members of his parish are going through, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I can see how and why the older folks of the parish can feel left out and lonely if they do not have family that they live with.”

On the Feast of St. Nicholas, Dec. 6, members of the parish’s youth group surprised Villhauer by leaving a red gift bag filled with holiday goodies on his doorstep. His package included flavored popcorn, chocolates, a Santa figurine and a card from the parish’s youth group. “The treats and the thoughtfulness brightened my Sunday afternoon,” he said.


More than 30 older or homebound parishioners received gift bags from the junior/senior high youth group that afternoon. Sofia Livorsi, parish youth group coordinator, said she wanted to organize a fun service project that would bring everyone together in a safe way. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the youth group has been meeting remotely.

She began by sending emails to families, asking them to make three gift bags filled with things that older or homebound members of the parish might enjoy. She suggested items such as small potted plants, treats, Christmas decorations, plush animals, large-print puzzle books and inspirational stories, and “anything else you think might brighten someone’s day.”

Before delivering the gift bags, youths and parents gathered in the park next to the church, bundled up in winter coats and wearing face coverings. Livorsi gave each family three names and addresses. She instructed the gift-givers to knock on doors, leave the gifts on the stoop, and step back at least six feet.

Kelsey Diianni and her mother, Kristy, came to the park with gift bags filled with fun and functional “dollar store” goodies, including mugs, calendars and large-print word searches. “This is the best part about Christmas,” Kristy said of gift giving. Kelsey said she was excited to see how the recipients would respond to the gift bags.

Julia Weiner, a high school senior, participated alongside her brother, Paul, a seventh-grader. She said she liked making the gift bags but was a bit nervous about dropping them off to people she didn’t personally know. “Everyone was really nice, though! It was fun to do something cheerful.”

Renata Owens accompanied her eighth-grade daughter, Janie, on the gift delivery. Renata said it was “so nice” to see the smiles on the faces of recipients.

Alison Dockery-Jackson delivered the gifts alongside her daughter, Sarah, a sophomore. “All the ladies were very thankful and appreciative of the kindness and thoughtfulness of the youth group … It was certainly a big hit,” Alison said.

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