Thursday, December 07, 2000

'St. Nick' delivers goodies to kids

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When 700 children visited Old St. Mary's Church on Wednesday, they found a little bit of Jesus and a little bit of St. Nicholas.

        The occasion was the annual St. Nicholas Day Celebration, the church's outreach to its Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.

        Children in grades pre-K-4 from St. Joseph, St. Francis Seraph, Washington Park and Rothenberg schools heard about Jesus from the Rev. Al Lauer and sang Christmas songs before getting a bag of presents from “St. Nicholas.”

[photo] In the old-world tradition, St. Nicholas (Fred Berger) distributes gifts on his special day, Dec. 6, at Old St. Mary's Church in Over-the-Rhine.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        Fred Berger, dressed in a red cape, red miter hat, white wig and beard, greeted each child as he handed them a plastic Santa bag.

        “Merry Christmas,” the Western Hills man said, sometimes adding a personal message. “Oh, look at that nice hat,” he said to one boy with a jesterlike stocking cap. Each bag was filled with a cap, gloves, socks, a coloring book, crayons, candy, school supplies, a toothbrush and toothpaste, fruit, a video and small toys. All of the items were donated by companies or individuals.

        “This is the most fun I have all year long,” Mr. Berger said. “Can you think of a better job in your entire life?

        “What you want is for every kid to go away with a good memory. Getting good memories as a kid is what it's all about.”

        In exchange for the presents, each student made a paper ornament and placed it on one of two pine trees near the altar. By the end of the celebration, the trees were draped with snowmen, reindeer, wreaths, trees, stars, snowflakes and candy canes.

        The celebration got high marks from teachers and students.

        “It's a good thing for the kids,” said Lori Keller a kindergarten teacher at St. Joseph School. “They enjoy it when they come.”

        Ten-year-old Michael Zanders, a third-grader at St. Joseph, said, “I liked the way St. Nicholas came out and we was singing songs.”

        As fourth-graders from Rothenberg School waited for their bag of goodies, they talked about the program. “It was good,” said Joshua Clark, 10. “I liked the singing.”

        Ten-year-old Ashley Gibson's favorite part was “when Santa Claus came out.”

        This celebration started about 15 years ago because teachers approached the church asking whether there was a way to get socks, hats and gloves for a few kids, said Judy Erwin of Covedale, who coordinates the event with her husband, Bernie.

        The event has grown, but the needs are the same.

        “One teacher said that 22 kids couldn't come today because they didn't have coats,” Mrs. Erwin said. Volunteers delivered bags to those children at school.

        The celebration is a good way to provide the children with basic needs, as well as familiarize them with this historic church in their neighborhood, Mrs. Erwin said.

        “You're basically doing the work of the Lord,” she said. “Each child here today — you hope their lives are touched in some way.”


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