Photo courtesy of Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland

AUBURN — “Once again, Christmas gifts donated by our Immaculate Heart of Mary parishioners have exceeded all our expectations.”

It’s an initiative response that left Deacon Denis Mailhot, the parish social ministry coordinator for the Auburn parish, overjoyed, and one that will lead to smiles and comfort for many area children in need this Christmas.

The “Jolly Gifts” program at Immaculate Heart of Mary encourages parishioners to bring a new, unwrapped toy or gift to a parish church (Sacred Heart Church or St. Philip Church) during Advent.

Thanks to the generosity of many, over 250 children’s gifts were collected.

“I am pleased that even during a pandemic filled with fear and anxiety, our social ministry and outreach program enabled the parish community to bring Christmas joy, peace, and happiness into the lives of children, providing struggling families with a rejuvenated faith for a new year filled with love, hope, and peace,” said Deacon Denis.

In addition to the gifts, over $600 in cash donations were contributed.

Catholic Charities Maine’s Parish Social Ministry program will distribute the toys to children in need.

“There are many people in our state wishing for a little help to get through the hardest months of the year,” said Susan McGaulley, manager of Parish Social Ministry. “As we’re all experiencing isolation, we’re so grateful that generous donors came together to show all that the spirit of the season is alive and well, right here where it belongs: with caring neighbors.”

“To see these children and families smiling as they receive these gifts is so impactful,” said Bill Wood of Parish Social Ministry. “You realize that these are more than gifts, they are feeding the spirit as well.”