By Patricia Weiland
For The Catholic Week
OZARK — Volunteer angels from St. John the Evangelist parish in Ozark delivered 99 hot Christmas meals and more than 100 blankets to the elderly, homebound, alone and financially distressed on Christmas day.
The parish volunteers were joined by members of churches from other denominations to make it a true community outreach effort.
One elderly woman, who wasn’t expecting anything for Christmas, wept when the volunteers arrived with dinner and a warm blanket.
Janet Amuso, who spearheaded St. John’s 2019 Christmas meal program, said the children who helped were especially moved by what they witnessed.
Amuso’s husband, Robert Amuso, and Sister Penny Smith, OP, came up with the idea in 2014.
St. John has a biweekly food-pantry operation and a program to help people who are struggling with utility bills. The first Christmas meals were delivered to people being helped by those programs.
“It started small,” Smith said. “We served people we knew were in need.”
The first dinner included ham and beans from the food pantry and prepared by the pantry volunteers. Parishioners contributed desserts.
Each year the numbers grew. The need surpassed the food available from the pantry, Mrs. Amuso said.
She and the others went to supermarkets to supplant the supply.
“We shopped and shopped. On Christmas morning, we cooked and cooked.”
Then, in 2018, Rafael Escalera, owner of Rodeo’s Mexican Restaurant in Ozark, and a parishioner, offered to bring the main course.
“He and his staff prepared chicken and ribs,” Smith said. “All the meat … everything.”
Amuso thought Rodeo’s 2018 contribution was a one-time gift because Escalera told them he was donating in memory of his mother.
“But this year he told us he would be doing it again!” Amuso said.
In the meantime, the young people of the parish began collecting blankets to give with the meals.
In a yearlong appeal, “Blessings of Blankets,” the children collected more than 100 new coverlets.
Amuso said as Christmas 2019 drew near the organizers realized they were woefully short of delivery volunteers. But, when other churches heard about it, dozens of volunteers from Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal and other denominations came to the rescue.
“It was a Christmas miracle,” she said.
By Patricia Weiland