The Catholic Commentator 

During a visit to the Holy Land a year ago Cherry Riggs was exposed to how people in other parts of the world are forced to live and how they often leave everything in their native country to immigrate to the United States. 

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Associates of the Congregation of St. Joseph, as well as St. Joseph women religious and St. Joseph’s Academy students, recently participated in a service day the weekend of Oct. 20-22. Above, women are shown stuffing 25 welcome baskets for incoming refugee families. Photo provided by the Congregation of St. Joseph. 

 

She was struck by the importance of reaching out to refugees and making them feel welcome in their new home. Riggs’ commitment to assisting immigrants and refugees is why she recently joined other volunteers in putting together 25 welcoming baskets for new families arriving in the Baton Rouge area. 

Riggs and several other lay associates of the Congregation of St. Joseph as well as St. Joseph women religious and St. Joseph’s Academy students gathered Oct. 21 at the Sisters of St. Joseph convent to assemble the baskets, which contained such household items as toothpaste, tooth brushes, bath towels, bath mats, hair items and cleaning supplies. 

Also included was a card that said “Welcome” in six different languages on the one side and on the other side a prayer written by associate and former Catholic Commentator staff writer Barbara Chenevert for refugees. 

“It is important for us to reach out to (refugees) and help them and express our love and happiness that they are here,” Riggs said, reminding everyone that the Holy Family were also refugees. “It’s a little way to me of saying we love you, we welcome you, we hope that you will stay in our country.” 

Stuffing the gift baskets was just one of several events the associates participated in on the weekend of Oct. 20-22. Some volunteered at the Baton Rouge Food Bank to help sort food and others were toiling at Thrive Academy in Baton Rouge outfitting 12 kitchens at the new dormitory building with such necessities as sponges, pots, plates, knives, forks, spoons and cooking thermometers. 

Sister Anne Ramagus CSJ said the service day was the second celebrated locally by the associates, with the first coming in January. She said the service days are traditionally scheduled near Oct. 15, which is regarded as the founding day for Sisters of St. Joseph around the world.

“One of the key issues for us since 1650 (when the order was founded) has been service to the dear neighbor,” Sister Annie said. “So the projects we came up with this year are in response to that deeper issue that unites us.” 

“I think that is also part of the biblical mandate to care for widows, orphans, refugees,” she added. “It’s a way of saying we are all one.” 

Sorting through more than 200 pounds of canned goods and divvying them up in 18 different categories at the food bank was such a success that Kirsty Roubique, also an associate, said she and others have decided to volunteer at the facility on the fourth Monday of every month from 8 a.m. – noon. 

“With the food bank you are talking the generosity of the community that has already donated the food,” Roubique said. “We are just one small part in this extremely efficient organization to feed your neighbor. As long as we can be a part of that we feel like the charism of the sisters is progressing through that chain.” 

Associate Fran Harvey said she and several fellow associates as well as other volunteers and SJA students spent one a Sunday afternoon equipping the kitchen at Thrive Academy, which is a school where at-risk students live during the week and return home during the weekend. Harvey said the group had equipped four kitchens of the recently completed dormitories earlier in the year and returned to finish he job. 

The school houses some of the community’s highest at-risk students in grades sixth through 12th. 

“It’s a mystery being involved in a service project like this,” Harvey said. “We don’t know who is on the receiving end and it’s a challenge not to have judgment (regarding) who is receiving what.” 

“That is not what the call is about,” she added. “The call is about doing your part and showing up. And give and offer what you can and let it and let God after that. It is a beautiful part of who shows up.” 

Riggs agreed, saying she was also inspired by having the opportunity to volunteer alongside students, even two young children who were brought by their grandmother, and especially the sisters. 

“Just working with them was just a powerful experience and looking all the way down to these tiny people and thinking of what an impact it made on them,” Riggs said. “The thing that touched my heart so much was certainly the generosity of the associates, students but on that day we gathered those of us who were associates were so very grateful to be working hand in hand with the sisters who have been models for us for so many years. It was joyful, prayerful. 

“My heart was just bursting being in the presence of all of these people working together.”