Since the devastation created by Superstorm Sandy, many people in Monmouth County have wondered what they can do to help those who lost everything. One ambitious Mater Dei Prep student put her thoughts into action, creating Project Christmas.
Mariah Ruther, a senior from Tinton Falls, witnessed the hurricane’s damage first hand when she saw the five feet of water in her best friend’s house in Atlantic Highlands. She soon realized how many people in the area had been affected and, with the start of the advent season, Mariah also recognized how important Christmas is to a young child.
Mariah’s concern was that, for parents worried about the financial burden of rebuilding a home, Christmas gifts might not be possible this year.
Mariah approached Mater Dei Prep Principal Steven Sciarappa with her idea: collect unwrapped toys from the Mater Dei community for distribution to those families hardest hit. Mariah then contacted the principals at Mother Teresa Regional School in Atlantic Highlands, Saint Leo the Great School in Lincroft and Saint Mary School (which shares a campus with Mater Dei). Among the three schools Mariah found 60 children who would benefit from Project Christmas.
Mariah then spoke in each of the religion classes at Mater Dei, asking the students to donate whatever they could to help these children. She tried to put it in perspective for the students, asking how they would feel if they knew Christmas was coming without the prospect of presents.
The first week of collection was slow, with Mariah worried she had promised more than she could deliver. She left school for a few days with many of her classmates to attend the Kairos X Retreat, a spiritual retreat for Mater Dei students. The retreat helped her realize how blessed we all are and renewed her motivation for the project. When she returned from the retreat, the foyer of Mater Dei Prep was filled with gifts.
By Tuesday, December 18th, Mariah had collected close to 350 toys, games, sporting equipment and gifts for the children. In addition to all the help Mariah received from students and faculty, two retail stores in Holmdel also donated to Project Christmas—both Modell’s and Five Below offered discounts to anyone purchasing items for donation. Mariah really appreciated the support of these local businesses. The Ruther family provided all the wrapping supplies.
Students are now separating the donations by age group and evenly distributing them among the families. Underclassmen have volunteered to give up their lunch breaks this week to help with the daunting task of inventorying and wrapping all the toys. While Mariah admits this hasn’t been a “stress-free” undertaking, she
has no regrets. “I don’t need gifts this year,” she told her mother. At 18,
Mariah already realizes the gift is in the giving.