With nearly 3,000 volunteers, 'Mercy in Action' day does a whole lot of good

Volunteers cook food for those in need at St. Irenaeus Parish in Rochester Hills during Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan's third annual "Mercy in Action Day of Service" on Oct. 20. The annual service day draws volunteers from across the Archdiocese of Detroit to dozens of work sites to perform corporal and spiritual works of mercy. (Courtesy of St. Irenaeus Parish)

Third annual service day, sponsored by Catholic Charities, mobilizes army of volunteers to serve common good

METRO DETROIT – Thousands of volunteers showed – and received – mercy Oct. 20 during the third annual Mercy in Action Day of Service, organized by Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan (CCSEM).

During the half-day event, volunteers from parish host sites throughout the Archdiocese of Detroit performed corporal and spiritual works of mercy in their local neighborhoods, cleaning up parks, helping senior citizens, packing lunches for the homeless and other acts of service.

The event originated in 2016, which was designated as the Year of Mercy by Pope Francis, said Joyce Hyttinen, Catholic Charities' director of Christian service and health care ministries. 

“We wanted to do something at the grassroots level,” Hyttinen said. This year’s event involved approximately one-third of the archdiocese's 218 parishes, with approximately 3,000 volunteers.

The volunteers came from all ages, races, genders and occupations, from students needing to meet community service requirements to senior citizens looking to give back. 

“Some of our projects have been part of an ongoing program, such as gardening for local food pantries, while some other new projects from our Day of Service have become ongoing projects,” Hyttinen said.

The projects ranged from the conventional, such as food and clothing drives, to the unique, such as creating and delivering appreciation baskets for police and fire departments. St. Irenaeus Parish in Rochester Hills scheduled a selection of more than 15 activities that day and had about 200 volunteers to help. Activities included making rosaries and fleece blankets, cleaning up local roads and presenting a "Fall Fun Day" at the Samaritas Residence, a subsidized housing residence for low-income seniors.

Volunteers assemble appreciation baskets filled with snacks, care items and cards to give to police, firefighters and community volunteers at St. Irenaeus Parish in Rochester Hills during Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan's third annual "Mercy in Action Day of Service" on Oct. 20. (Laura Brestovansky | Special to Detroit Catholic)

Meanwhile, at St. Jane Frances de Chantal in Sterling Heights, Christian service and adult formation coordinator Debbie Mazur organized efforts to create 250 care packages for military personnel, make plastic mats out of recycled grocery bags to give to the homeless, and other activities.

“We are the hands and feet of Jesus,” Mazur said. “I love seeing everyone working for Our Lord. It’s wonderful. We are all doing God’s work.”

Cindy Monaghan, Christian service director at St. Irenaeus, said the parish’s event was intended to give parishioners and others an idea of the types of ongoing service that is needed.

“I love the service,” Monaghan said. “I love the variety. I love that families can bring kids. I love that it’s a shallow entry point for people to get involved and get introduced to the faith. A friend may not be ready to come to church, but they can take part in something like this.”

Most importantly, Monaghan said she appreciated the Day of Service for the positive light it shines on the Catholic faith.

“It’s a chance to show the good things of the Catholic Church,” Monaghan said. “It shows people that we have a heart for the Lord and for each other.”

Logan and Beatrice Janka brought their sons William, 3, and Henrik, 5 months, to St. Irenaeus for the day of service. 

“I don’t know that we’ll do much good here,” Beatrice Janka said, holding her sleeping infant. “But we wanted to help the kids. We’re trying to instill good values.” 

She added her other son, William, woke his parents up to make sure they didn't miss out, and was intent on helping fill decorated snack bags for the needy.

William Janka, 3, fills a SnackPax bag for a hungry child with the help of his parents Logan and Beatrice Janka at St. Irenaeus Parish in Rochester Hills during Catholic Charities' Mercy in Action Day of Service. (Laura Brestovansky | Special to Detroit Catholic)

Chris Adams wanted to help, even as she was hobbling on crutches after foot surgery. She was motivated by gratitude from all the help she received during her recovery. That example prompted her friend and driver Kathy Talarico to follow suit. 

“I’ve come to believe I’ve found a new church home,” Talarico said. “I’ve never found a community so loving.”

Some also served as a chance to have fun. Colleen Steyer, a member of St. Irenaeus' Christian service commission, said a group of women spent their “girls’ night out” at last year’s day of service. 

“So many people have invited their families and friends. It’s incredible,” Steyer said.

Or, as Kathy Melito said as she was decorating lunch bags (to be later filled with lunch items for the needy), “I get to be a kid again. I get to color and play with crayons and markers.”

Catholic Charities' event coincided with Make a Difference Day, an annual community service event that takes place nationwide on the fourth Saturday in October. Unlike the secular Make a Difference Day, the Mercy in Action Day of Service included a spiritual component. At St. Jane Frances de Chantal, for example, several volunteers were engaged in Eucharistic adoration on behalf of the volunteers and those being served.

Several local companies contributed to the Day of Service as well: Trinity Health/St. Joseph Mercy Health System contributed the T-shirts for each of the volunteers, while Panera Bread, Meijer, Costco, and Kroger each made generous contributions, Hyttinen said.

While the Day of Service was only a half-day affair, the planning involved months of preparation. Hyttinen said organizing starts each April with volunteers meeting to share ideas and begin planning. This year, approximately 28 parish host sites participated, each involving two to five surrounding parishes.

Each parish host site was highly organized in order to get as much work done as possible in a limited amount of time. On the Day of Service, volunteers checked in, participated in prayer, and enjoyed some refreshments before connecting with their work group. Hyttinen said the work groups traveled to the work site in “caravans of compassion.”

Hyttinen worked with regional co-leaders and the 16 archdiocesan vicariates to coordinate the various activities. “They’re always looking for ideas,” she said. 

The co-leaders met in April, June and August to share resources. They will meet again in late October to share feedback so as to improve the event for the following year.

“This is so rewarding for the volunteers,” Hyttinen said. “Not only do they give by doing, they’ve also established ongoing relationships with the people they serve.”

For more information or to participate in the 2019 Mercy in Action Day of Service, contact your parish Christian service coordinator or contact Joyce Hyttinen at [email protected] or 586-416-2300 ext. 4032.