DSC_9511-1.jpgRyan Callahan and his fiancee Ashley O’Connor used the gift-giving program as a way to teach their children about the importance of helping others in need.

“You matter.” That was the message case manager Laura Kiernan gave 17 families living at The Village at Cataumet one week prior to Thanksgiving. 

She did so as those families, many of whom have little to their name, started placing gifts into shoebox-sized packages that will go to children in countries all around the world. Called Operation Christmas Child, the program is run through Samaritan’s Purse, a non-denominational evangelical Christian International Relief organization, and its aim is to provide gifts to the poorest of the poor throughout the world.

The idea to participate in the program was inspired by John Ely, pastor of the Falmouth Baptist Church, who also serves as a security officer at The Village at Cataumet one night a week. Ely and his parishioners have taken part in Operation Christmas Child for nearly two dozen years. He suggested to Kiernan it might be a good fit for those at the shelter.

About a month prior, Kiernan brought the concept to those living at The Village at Cataumet who embraced the idea of helping others. “I discovered how important it was to these families to give back,” Kiernan said.

So on a late-autumn night in November, mothers and fathers gathered their children in a modest-sized community room in a Bourne shelter and showed a little love for complete strangers. It was an example of compassion – the needy giving to the needy.

At some point this month, those at the shelter will receive similar gifts from the hearts of complete strangers. Kiernan told them that this was their way of “passing it on… I really like the Desmond Tutu quote, ‘Do your little bit of good where you are.’ Your little bit of good is overwhelming the world.”

DSC_9513.jpgJust one of the boxes that The Village at Cataumet sent to needy famiies throughout the world.

Ryan Callahan and his fiancée Ashley O’Connor used the project to teach their children Faith, 9; Ruby, 4; and Rhys, 1, about the importance of charity. “It feels good to help others,” Ryan said.

The family has been at the shelter for the past five months, arriving after Ryan lost his job and they were evicted from their home. Living in shelter, he admitted is difficult, particularly because of the cramped quarters. “Right now we live on top of each other,” he said.

He hoped to move into a three-bedroom house before Christmas, acknowledging that “it will mean the world” to have a place to call their own.

Across the room Meliscia Collins packed three boxes of gifts – Ninja Turtle puzzles, crayons and small cars – she bought from Stop & Shop, Ocean State Job Lot and Dollar Tree with her children Abraham, 4, and James, 3. “I believe in giving back,” said Meliscia, who has been at the shelter for about a week.

“I had fallen on hard times,” she said as to what brought her there.

Like those around her, Collins is looking forward to getting out of shelter and into permanent housing. “I just want to create a better environment for my children,” she said.

As she works towards that personal goal, Collins did not allow her personal difficulties prevent her from providing a little holiday joy to those who may be worse off than her.

“You should be proud of yourselves,” Kiernan told Collins and her neighbors at The Village at Cataumet. “You matter. You really do.”