Via The Florida Catholic – November 2017
St. Joseph of the Forest Mission in Silver Springs is in the heart of the Ocala National Forest where many children are in need of food, shelter and clothing. For the past 20 years, missioners have taken part in a Secret Santa project providing gifts for children at Christmas. This year, they joined Oklawaha Bridge Baptist Church and Help Agency to better reach families in need.
Help Agency serves those in rural poverty. An estimated 1,000 children in the Ocala National Forest are living under the poverty level or are homeless. Linda Metzler has been a parishioner at the mission for about 10 years and serves as parish office manager. She is the first one to receive calls from families seeking services, making her aware of the stark limitations of many of her neighbors. Although the mission has held toy and food drives in the past, this year Metzler thought to work with an agency that could more effectively assist the mission in reaching those most in need.
“I felt called to do it,” she said. “I’m in contact with a lot of these different people and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to help big time.” Through the Secret Santa project, mission families brought toys, clothes and supplies through the Thanksgiving Day holiday weekend. The charitable efforts led to the collection of more than $1,000 worth of toys and clothes and $500 in cash donations.
St. Joseph of the Forest Mission pastor Father Justin Vakko said he hopes the anonymous donations bring much joy to the community. “It is always very exciting because we want to make sure that every child gets something on Christmas,” he said. “We want to do our part. This is an initiative to make the Christmas celebration great.”