A resident of Nativity B.V.M. Place in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond section received Christmas meals, gifts and handmade cards from archdiocesan Catholic Housing and Community Services (CHCS), Dec. 21. CHCS, which operates Nativity B.V.M. Place and several other senior housing residences, teamed up with a number of area partners to ensure clients had both food and fellowship during the holidays amid the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Kristi Bennett)

Seniors in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond and Kensington neighborhoods enjoyed hearty holiday dinners, thanks to the Philadelphia Archdiocese and several community partners.

Last week, residents of Nativity B.V.M. Place and St. Francis Villa, senior housing complexes operated by archdiocesan Catholic Housing and Community Services (CHCS), received single-serve meals along with desserts, gifts and Christmas cards.

CHCS provides a continuum of care to the region’s older adults through activity centers, in-home support and five apartment complexes in Philadelphia. Two additional facilities, St. Rita Place in South Philadelphia and St. Joseph Place in Collingdale, are under development.

Since COVID restrictions prevented many of its clients from spending Christmas with loved ones, CHCS staff personally delivered the meals, which were made possible by a grant from the Conshohocken-based W. W. Smith Charitable Trust and by direct donations from the neighborhood association PROPAC (Port Richmond on Patrol and Civic).

In a Facebook post, PROPAC said the meals had been sponsored by “a guy who never forgot where he grew up … and a few of his friends,” who asked the organization “to go all out for Christmas.”

PROPAC listed the menu items as including “chicken (parmesan), rigatoni, fresh bread, turkeys, potatoes, stuffing, kielbasa and (sauerkraut) … ham and cabbage, meatloaf … macaroni and cheese, chicken noodle soup, cream of broccoli soup,” topped off by pound cake from nearby Stock’s Bakery.

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The group noted it had “provided two weeks’ worth of dinners” for the CHCS seniors, enough “for Christmas and New Year’s.” Portions (which included “little candy treats, pastries and cookies”) were packaged in individual containers for convenience, and rounded out with a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread per recipient.

A local group of “Nativity Elves” followed up the meals with gift bags, while grocery store cards were supplied by Honey’s Angels, a Port Richmond outreach that provides food assistance during the holidays to a number of area social service agencies, schools and churches.

Students from Nazareth Academy Grade School in Northeast Philadelphia created handmade Christmas cards for the CHCS residents. To ensure the seniors had an adequate supply of holiday sweets, Yahaira Reyes of HumanGood, the property management firm for CHCS’s senior complexes, prepared additional treat bags, which she distributed with the help of Kristi Bennett, social services coordinator for Nativity B.V.M. Place and St. Francis Villa.

The outpouring of support helped offset the contrast between previous Christmas celebrations and a holiday marked under COVID-related stay-at-home orders.

Nativity B.V.M. resident Kathy recalled that her family typically enjoyed “the Italian feast of seven fishes” (“Festa dei Sette Pesci” or “La Vigilia”), during which seven courses of fish and seafood dishes are eaten on Christmas Eve.

“Over 25 people (would be) around our large dining room table telling great stories,” she said.

CHCS director Heather Huot admitted “this Christmas was certainly different for us and for our seniors.”

With the usual resident parties cancelled, said Huot, “the community rooms were quiet, missing the laughter and joy of our usual celebrations.”

At the same time, she said, “our hallways were still full of hope and joy, thanks to our great community partners and staff who brought Christmas to each and every one of our residents.”