Hibernians decorating

Rachel McGinnis of South Middleton Township decorates a Christmas tree for the Ancient Order of Hibernians “Christmas Angels.” The volunteer project involved putting up holiday decorations for elderly and infirmed individuals.

The Cumberland County Division of Ancient Order of Hibernians spent December looking for a few good homes to decorate.

Tom Kane of Carlisle, the division’s president, said the group had trouble finding enough homes to keep volunteers busy during the first year that the Catholic Irish Organization volunteered to decorate homes of the elderly and infirmed for the holidays.

“The response has been very light. We’ve had less than 10 requests,” Kane said. “We put it in the church bulletin and I think maybe it made families more aware that they needed to help their own parents, so they’re helping them instead of us helping them.”

The Gen. William Thompson Cumberland County Division of the AOH, founded in 2001, meets on the fourth Wednesdays of each month at St. Patrick Shrine in Carlisle. The group participates in “several community, charitable and faith-centered projects each year,” according to its website.

Kane said maybe he “didn’t push it as much outside of the church” for decorating requests as he did inside the church. Next year, he plans to also solicit physical therapy centers, hospitals, doctor’s offices and other venues frequented by the elderly.

What the program does have for now is plenty of volunteers. Kane said 16 families stepped forward to help out this year. Volunteers put up “small stuff” like nativity scenes, indoor lights or trees, said OAH member Jim Ginnis of South Middleton Township.

“We made it a safety thing to have parents come with their children. It’s mostly kids who want to do it to get service hours,” Kane said. “We have people of all ages. We even have some elderly helping the elderly. You know, some people like to get down on kids and say they don’t do anything, but maybe they’re not asked to do anything.”

Kane got the idea of decorating homes for the elderly when delivering Holy Communion last year to the homebound. Many told him that they wanted to put up holiday decorations but weren’t capable of doing it by themselves.

So how do people respond when volunteers show up ready to decorate their homes?

“There’s a little bit of puzzlement because they don’t know what we’re all about. As a matter of fact, we don’t know what we’re all about, but we’re getting there,” Kane said with a laugh.

“We put up a Christmas tree for a lady and she was as happy as can be. She was elated,” McGinnis said. “One lady we saw at Forest Park (Health Center and Rehabilitation Center) was just glad to have a visitor. My wife, Emilie, went back to see her a couple of times since then just to say hello. If you just went over there and said hello to them and a gave them a couple of cards, they’d be as happy as can be.”

While at Forest Park, McGinnis said he became engaged in a conversation with a resident who wasn’t even getting decorations.

Despite a low number of requests this year for decorating, OAH members are optimistic that the project will grow in future years.

“I think it will take off. Whenever you get young people and old people together, it’s a good mix,” Kane said.

To take a look at the holiday decorating program or to volunteer for next year, contact Kane at 249-0089 or go to www.aohcumberland2.org and click on the Christmas Angel tab.

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