By Edward J. Lis

Giving gifts has become almost synonymous with Christmas in our culture. Among all the gifts given and received this time of year, there are always some that stand out as special gifts that really make a difference in the lives of others.

Food for thought
Harry G. Ochs Jr. was an icon at the Reading Terminal Market for more than 60 years, first as an employee and later the proprietor of Harry Ochs Prime Meats. When he passed away recently at the age of 80, his family requested that donations in his name be made to St. John’s Hospice. His son, Nick, who has managed the business for the last 15 years, said that his dad had been making donations to St. John’s Hospice since the early 1970s.

“I worked at the market on weekends, and at the end of the day Dad would often put together a large package of meats and say to our delivery guy Willy, ‘Take all this up to St. John’s on your way home.’ Willy had once resided at St. John’s, so Dad thought it was a good place to help out,” Nick said.

Later, when Nick married he found out that his wife’s family was friendly with Father Kevin Lawrence, who was then the program director at St. John’s Hospice. Harry and Father Kevin quickly became friends and would occasionally have lunch together at the market. Harry encouraged other market vendors like Martin and Charles Giunta (Martin’s Sausages and Giunta’s Meats) and Marian D’Ambrosio (Tootsie’s Salad Express) to support St. John’s as well.

In the name of a son
In 1981, Charles F. Fretz Jr. suffered a terrible loss: the sudden death of his only son, Ronald, at the age of 35. According to his daughters, Marge Quinn and Nancy Dixon, in the midst of his grief he decided to give $25 a month to St. John’s Hospice in Ronald’s memory.

Charles, who is now 94 years old, has continued sending his monthly donation ever since. A 1934 graduate of Northeast Catholic High School and one of the original parishioners at St. David Parish in Willow Grove, Charles is now a member of Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Warminster. He still plays in billiards and shuffleboard tournaments at a local senior center.

As daughter Marge says, “He has a lot of faith and compassion for others.”

The gift of doing without gifts
Just a few weeks ago, a letter arrived at St. John’s Hospice with a $1,000 check in it. The married couple who made the donation are parishioners of St. Jerome Parish in Northeast Philadelphia. They wrote simply: “This is money that we saved by not exchanging gifts with each other or giving gifts to our grown children at Christmas this year. We consider this gift of charity to be our gift to each other and to our children.”

In a subsequent telephone conversation, they shared that when their children gathered to do their annual Pollyanna, they also chose to forego a gift exchange in favor of making a donation to charity.

According to these anonymous donors, “there are lots of worthwhile charities out there, you just have to choose a good one and support it.”

These stories of heroic generosity have helped Catholic Social Services to continue to provide help and create hope for the men of St. John’s Hospice. This ministry to the homeless is under severe financial pressures at this time and needs contributions. Please consider making a charitable donation to St. John’s Hospice before the end of the year, and join Harry Ochs, Charles Fretz and countless others in giving a Christmas gift that truly makes a difference – a gift that like our Lord Himself, gives life to others.

Edward J. Lis is the director of Catholic Mission Integration for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Secretariat for Catholic Human Services.