Charity helps make Christmas happen

Santa's helper was wearing a Roman collar and a bishop's cross Friday afternoon, dutifully pushing a grocery cart as Nick and Misty picked out food and Christmas presents for their three young children.

Bishop Michael Jackels has assisted families participating in the Catholic Charities Christmas Sharing program each of the four Christmases he has led the Wichita diocese.

The program provides food, clothing and children's Christmas gifts for families in need.

Jackels' playful advice was an added bonus as Nick and Misty selected toys for their two daughters, ages 10 and 8, and 1-year-old son. The couple asked that their last name not be used.

"Just remember — he grows," Jackels said gently as Nick studied a table piled high with toys for infants and toddlers.

When Nick selected a train made of wood blocks, Jackels was pleased.

"That's a nice one!" he said.

The couple added other toys, then headed to tables loaded with stocking stuffers.

"You should get him one of those snakes so he can use it to scare his sisters when he gets older," Jackels joked.

About 400 families with more than 1,000 children signed up this year for Christmas Sharing, which has been helping families in need for more than 10 years.

While the number of families is down somewhat in comparison to years past, Catholic Charities spokeswoman Teresa Kunze said the number of children enrolled is up dramatically.

"We're serving quite a few more children this year," she said.

Last year, she said, the program served about 700 children.

Some of the families coming for help have never needed assistance before, she said, but they're coping with layoffs or reduced hours at work.

"We're seeing more of those families — families just above the poverty line," she said.

The two-day distribution continues today.

While Nick later admitted "it was a little intimidating" to have the bishop help them as they loaded their cart, Misty was so moved by what they were able to get for their children she nearly choked up as she talked about it.

The generosity of those who give to Christmas Sharing, she said, is "awesome.

"It means our kids are going to have a nice Christmas."

Particularly for the girls — there was no snake in the cart.