Cash, gift certificates given to 1,400 people in Father Woody’s name
By Nissa LaPoint
Photo by James Baca/DCR
With a handshake and sincere greeting of “Merry Christmas,” more than a thousand homeless and poor became the recipients of a crisp $20 bill and, for children, a McDonald’s gift certificate given at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver Dec. 16.
“It’s nice,” said Eric Alleman, 35, who said he will use his $20 to do laundry and buy snacks and a pack of cigarettes. “It helps out a lot of people.”
At final count, 1,400 adults and 100 children came to the Cathedral Basilica and walked through a line to receive an envelope containing the money and the certificates for the annual Father Woody money giveaway to the homeless and needy.
As early as the evening before, guests lined up outside the Cathedral Basilica and later filled the 800-seat church for a morning liturgy that included a Scripture reading and a short homily from Msgr. Thomas Fryar, pastor of the church and moderator of the curia for the Denver Archdiocese.
In his homily, Msgr. Fryar spoke on the God-given dignity of all people.
“The weather was a little milder than (previous) years … but people are very grateful, and I think they really appreciated monsignor’s homily,” said Mary Ellen Lederman, parish administrator.
New and longtime volunteers from the Knights of Columbus, Regis University and the Denver Sheriff Department helped direct the guests during the event that’s been an annual tradition.
The giveaway was established by the late Msgr. Charles Woodrich, known as “Father Woody,” who dedicated his life to serving the poor in Denver until his death in 1991.
“It’s part of Father Woody’s legacy,” said Lovia Shipp, who’s volunteered for 20 years and was once his secretary. “This is what he did.”
She recalled Father Woody saying that nobody deserved a better Christmas than the homeless and how it’s important to make them feel welcome.
Anonymous donors provide the $40,000 via a trust fund that is used to purchase $1,000 worth of McDonald’s certificates and to pay the 18 sheriff’s deputies that came to police the event, Lederman said. In the end, almost $30,000 was distributed, she said.
This year the gifts were passed out by Msgr. Fryar and Father Michael Bodzioch, parochial vicar of the Cathedral Basilica; Jesuit Father Michael Sheeran, Regis University president; and retired Father Pat Kennedy, a friend of Father Woody. Also assisting at the giveaway was Father Robert Fisher, pastor of All Souls Parish in Englewood; and Oblates of the Virgin Mary Father Chris Uhl, pastor of Holy Ghost Parish in Denver.
The extra money was a welcome gift for Kris Geerdes, 20, who came to the giveaway for the first time.
“(I’ll use it) to buy some of those new apple pies (at McDonalds) that are the bomb,” said Geerdes, who said she’s been living under a bridge in Denver.
She came to the church at 7 a.m. that morning with hopes to receive the money she’ll also use to buy diapers, she said.
Natalie Martinez, also from Denver, said she will use the money to buy some gifts for her 2-year-old son, Dominic.
Outside the church doors, those in line also received socks, lotion and for the children, a bag filled with toys, clothes and candy.
“There’s such a great need,” said Yanita Rowan, 53, who works with other volunteers every year to buy items for those in need at the giveaway.
She spent $1,700 to purchase 1,200 pairs of socks this year and passed out other items outside the church.
“It makes us feel great to help out a little bit,” she said.