By Nadia Maria Smith
CS&T Staff Writer
WARMINSTER – Organizing a fundraising drive or volunteering seems like a good idea but so often busy lives get in the way.
Not for Carolyn Boscola, a part-time working mom of two little boys from Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Warminster. She was inspired to do a blanket drive for the homeless men of St. John’s Hospice in Center City Philadelphia during one of the coldest spells of the winter.
The idea came to Boscola as she was sitting in church praying for her 3-year-old son. He had stopped eating solid food 31 days before, but in prayer, she felt an overwhelming feeling of peace and she knew her son would be all right. Her thoughts turned instead to the homeless, on the streets during that night of extreme cold. When she got home, her husband Nick informed her that their son, Tommy, had started eating again while she was at Mass.
Thankful, Boscola told her husband about her concern for the homeless, and the idea she had while praying – that she should collect blankets for them.
Boscola began to do a little research. She wanted to help veterans since her dad is one and she discovered that most homeless men are veterans, she said. That led her to look for a men’s shelter to donate to, and she found St. John’s Hospice, a Catholic Social Services residential shelter that has helped homeless men find dignity, nourishment and new beginnings for 45 years.
Boscola enlisted the help of her friends and family and over a weekend collected 37 blankets, coats and a number of other items for the men. She and a friend took the blankets to the hospice and brought their children along. Boscola’s 6-year-old son Jacob helped make sandwiches for the men, and all of them gave out the items they had collected.
Although the day had been incredibly rewarding, Boscola said, she couldn’t stop thinking about the men who came into the hospice after all the blankets were gone. Apparently her son couldn’t either. “My son said to me, ‘Mom, I want to go back to the city … I want to bring more bags,'” Boscola said.
She decided that she would do another drive but this time her goal was to collect as many blankets as the number of men the shelter serves during one lunch – up to 400 people.
This time the drive took a couple of months and it reached further than just her friends and family. She enlisted the help of her parish, her son’s preschool and even her work. Her friends got their parishes, children’s schools and youth groups involved. Before she knew it, her home had been taken over by bags full of donations.
“We ended up with so much stuff. So many people were excited to help,” Boscola said. “I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of people and their willingness to help.”
They ended up with enough blankets, coats, men’s clothing, hats, gloves, scarves and other items to fill up two vans, a pickup truck and a car.
She and her small entourage arrived at St. John’s Hospice on March 12, the day the shelter was celebrating the third anniversary of its evening coffee house program. The program allows the homeless men who avoid shelters to come into the safety of St. John’s “side yard” each evening to sit up for the night.
The men are provided beverages, snacks, restrooms and, most importantly, the opportunity to interact positively with a St. John’s staff member who cares.
The goal is to build trust through communication with the men in hopes that they might become comfortable transitioning into the residential programs and ending the cycle of chronic homelessness.
The whole experience proved to be so rewarding that Boscola is already thinking of the next project. Her family really enjoyed it too, especially her 6-year-old son, who she hopes will develop a love of service because “kindness goes a long way.”
Boscola’s efforts have inspired several of her friends to do something too. And that makes her very happy because at first it “may seem daunting, but in the end it’s no big deal,” she said.
“I’m a mom with two little kids who works part-time, so if I can do it others can too.”
CS&T staff writer Nadia Maria Smith may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (215) 965-4614.