Area faithful can spread Christmas cheer while helping to stock local food cupboards, thanks to an annual greeting card drive.

Archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services (NDS) is once again offering custom-designed Christmas cards that enable buyers to “give twice,” said retired NDS director Anne Ayella, who launched the fundraiser 38 years ago.

The 5 x 7 inch cards, printed on high quality paper, feature eight different pen-and-ink designs donated by local artist Patty Smith. Cards are sold in packs of 10 or 20, for $15 and $25 respectively. Variety packs also available.

Proceeds from the Alternative Christmas Cards campaign directly benefit NDS’s Community Food Program, which supports an extensive network of emergency food pantries throughout the Philadelphia region.

The images – featuring scenes from the Nativity narrative, plus angels, animals and Christmas trees – are rotated throughout the years, with new ones coming into circulation and others occasionally retired. Most of the cards include Scripture verses or prayers; all refer to the holiday’s Christian significance.

This year’s design features the newborn Jesus, surrounded by child-like angels and the words of Luke 2:12: “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

Each card states that the greeting represents a donation made in the recipient’s name “to help feed and empower the needy of our area.”

That’s exactly what Ayella, now the archdiocesan director of Catholic Relief Services, set out to do when she developed the idea while on maternity leave with her oldest son.

“I’m no artist, but I drew this sort of sketchy Christmas tree,” said Ayella, who joked her prototype was “pretty pathetic,” but “the main idea was that the cards represented a donation towards feeding the hungry.”

A few years later, Ayella tapped her cousin Smith to take over the design responsibilities. At the suggestion of Msgr. Daniel Sullivan, vicar for archdiocesan clergy, four of the card designs were customized for priests, with an insert advising that recipients and their loved ones would be remembered at a Christmas Day Mass.

The card drive brings in about $10,000 each year, said Ayella, an amount for which NDS Community Food Program administrator Denise Hopkins is grateful – especially since client volume has doubled at NDS pantries due to the pandemic.

The funds “(enable) us to purchase nourishing food for our cupboards and soup kitchens, which serve individuals, senior citizens, families and children,” said Hopkins. “With the increase of people needing food due to COVID, this initiative is critical.”

Amid a time of uncertainty and unrest, the cards also provide a sense of “stability and tradition,” said Ayella.

“I used to see the same people ordering the cards year after year, and it touched my heart,” she said.

For some folks, she said, the NDS cards are a now a family tradition.

“A young guy in my parish bought sets of cards for his six siblings,” she said. “His parents were always donating to our program, and even at their deaths they asked for donations to help our food cupboards. So he bought the cards in honor of them and to continue that legacy.”

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For more information or to purchase the NDS Alternative Christmas Cards, contact Denise Hopkins, Administrator, NDS Community Food Program at 215-895-3470 ext. 77823 or dhopkins@ndsarch.org. View the 2020 card collection here.