FORT KENT — Traditionally at Advent, large giving trees stand tall in the churches of St. John Vianney Parish in Fort Kent, Saint Francis, Wallagrass, and Eagle Lake, the branches full of cards containing items of need for community members, including children. Happily, the parishioners would take the cards, purchase its contents, and provide a smile to the recipient at Christmas.

During the pandemic, St. John Vianney Parish has altered the program, but its impact remains stronger than ever.

“Given the uncertain risk status in our communities, we decided not to have the trees this year,” said Fr. Jean-Paul Labrie, pastor of St. John Vianney. “Instead, we offered ‘snowflake boxes’ where people could drop in financial donations and our Social Justice and Peace Commission would then purchase and prepare the gifts.”

Thousands of dollars in contributions soon followed.

“The generosity is truly amazing,” he said.

The parish was able to provide gifts to 231 recipients, including 115 children, throughout the local area. Among the items are gift cards for food, gas, and clothing; winter items, like jackets, gloves, and hats; diapers; and a wide variety of toys and dolls. The final total nearly doubled the parish’s original goal for this very different year.

The project, which began in 2003, is a labor of love for the parish.

“This is a massive project and all of the success is due to people working together for a common cause: offering joy to all. I want to thank the Social Justice and Peace Commission and all its ‘elves’ for making this project such a creative and amazing success,” said Fr. Labrie. “This project represents hope, kindness, and generosity to so many.”