The refugee children will arrive on buses from east Charlotte, but they are originally from countries like Somalia, Nepal, Sudan, and Vietnam.Marilyn Borrelli has organized the annual Christmas party at St. Matthew Catholic Church for 14 years. “Many of the children were born in refugee camps, and they have nothing,” she said.Refugees are people who have fled their home country because of war, or because they could be imprisoned or killed for reasons such as race or religion. Only a certain amount of refugees are allowed into the United States each year, and a fairly large community of refugee families live in east Charlotte. Borrelli coordinates the party for 150-200 children through the Missionaries of Charity, a religious order of nuns in Charlotte who help support the refugee families.When the children arrive on Dec. 15, they will have pizza and soda, and two big sheet cakes. They light candles and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. A priest comes and talks a little about Christmas, because some of the children are Christians, but some are not. They take the children outside to the St. Matthew Elementary School playground while the 50 volunteers setup indoor games such as bingo, musical chairs, craft tables, and bean bag tosses.Borrelli said, “The children just love the outdoor field and open space. The teenagers especially enjoy playing soccer and basketball with the volunteers.” Throughout the party, St. Nicholas distributes and talks to each of the 150-200 children, and he gives each child a gift. The Knights of Columbus, volunteers, and parishioners contribute to the gifts.Borrelli said, “One time a 12-year-old girl started crying when St. Nicholas gave her a gift. She said to him, ‘It is the first time I have ever had a present just for me.’ ” “All of the children are so polite and gracious. It is wonderful to see them enjoying themselves,” Borrelli said.Families and teenagers from around the parish help with the party. Children must be 10 and older to volunteer. Singers and musicians from St. Matthew provide entertainment. The music has grown each year, and now it’s a band, including trumpets, singers, guitars, and keyboard players.Borrelli said, “It’s a neat celebration of Christmas that captures the true spirit of giving. I think of it as a Christmas present to Jesus. This is what he would want us to do.”
Friday, Dec. 07, 2012
14-year tradition: Christmas party for refugee children
For everyone involved at St. Matthew, ‘it is a joyful thing’
St. Matthew Catholic Church will hold a Christmas party for refugee children on Dec. 15. St. Nicholas will give each child a gift at the party; 150-200 children from east Charlotte will attend. COURTESY OF MARILYN BORRELLI
Want to help? To volunteer or donate a gift for the party, contact Marilyn Borrelli at 803-547-6181.