By Dave Jolivet
EASTON, Mass. — Twenty-five years ago, the fledgling mission to assist area poor and needy, My Brother’s Keeper, founded by James and Terry Orcutt, initiated its Christmas Assistance Program which then took away some of the seasonal stress from 14 area families who could not provide Christmas gifts to their children.
“That same year, 1990, the tiny My Brother’s Keeper staff, six lay men and women, two Holy Cross priests and a newly-ordained deacon, celebrated the first Gratitude Mass around a makeshift altar, in a three-car garage to thank God for granting us the privilege of serving others in His name,” Erich E. Miller, president of My Brother’s Keeper, told The Anchor. “We prayed for Christ’s blessings on our efforts to spread His love and hope.”
Recently the mission of service celebrated its 25th annual Gratitude Mass in the warehouse portion of its 15,000-square-foot operation center in Easton located next to Stonehill College.
“Our service is a gift to God so we symbolically make the altar out of a dresser and box spring, things we deliver to families in need,” explained Miller.
An overwhelming 900 volunteers and supporters attended this year’s Mass, celebrated by Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V.
“My Brother’s Keeper did not have parking capacity for the full crowd,” said Miller. “Our neighbors at Holy Cross Family Ministries kindly let us use their parking lot. Two of our volunteers, Sean and Karen O’Sullivan, own a transportation company called ALimo4U. They donated trolley and shuttle buses to transport our guests to and from overflow parking. They are an example of the Body of Christ which St. Paul speaks of — many parts, one body — each person participating in God’s work in their own special way.”
This year’s concelebrants included priests from the Congregation of Holy Cross: Father John Denning, president of Stonehill College and My Brother’s Keeper board member; Father Willy Raymond, president of Holy Cross Family Ministries; Father Tony Szakaly, local superior; and Father Joe Callahan, Spiritual director of the Holy Cross Retreat House. Priests and deacons from the Fall River Diocese and the Boston Archdiocese also assisted.
Readers at the Mass included student volunteers from some of the 1,000 students from 100 schools who help My Brother’s Keeper each year: Alec Mauk, a senior at Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth; Shannon Grady, a sophomore at Providence College; and Owen Tuite, a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame.
In his homily, Bishop da Cunha told the large gathering, “All of us have been given many gifts and talents and we acknowledge them and are grateful for them. These gifts and talents we have received are not only for our personal use, but are given for the common good, to be shared with those less fortunate.
“We see in our society today many people who are gifted and talented and who use those gifts for self-promotion, for power and self-aggrandizement. We see others using all that they have for the common good, to lift others up, to bring happiness to others and in doing so they find happiness and fulfilment. Love ‘does not seek its own’, said the Apostle Paul (I Cor. 13:5). We all need to discover that the happiest and most fulfilling moments of our lives are those when we are being loving, generous and serving each other.”
The Orcutts told The Anchor, “It was deeply gratifying to have more than 900 people join us for the 25th annual Gratitude Mass. Looking back at the first My Brother’s Keeper Gratitude Mass in 1990, when only nine people were present, makes us so aware of the ability of God to increase by tenfold whatever little we bring to Him. The growth of My Brother’s Keeper is living testimony of God’s ability to multiply our small effort just as He did with the five loaves and two small fish in order to feed the 5,000.”
As part of this year’s Christmas Assistance Program, as at past Gratitude Masses, each family attending was asked to bring one toy for a child in need. “All of the children present brought the Christmas gifts forward to the altar during the preparation of the gifts,” Deacon Alan Thadeau told The Anchor. “Such a sight at the Mass, the presentation of the Christmas gifts, the huge congregation, just took my breath away. It was a tremendous display of celebrating God’s gift of sharing with others.
“The bishop’s homily was so heartfelt and it touched the people there, and the bishop was touched by the number of people at the Mass. They each energized the other.”
Miller told The Anchor that the Christmas Assistance Program now serves more than 3,000 families annually — about 12,000 children and adults — living in more than 90 communities across eastern Massachusetts.
Founded by the Orcutts in Taunton in 1988, My Brother’s Keeper provides those in need with clothes, linens, gently-used and refurbished furniture, food and toys. As a gift at each furniture delivery they offer a crucifix with the message, “We’re just the delivery people — this is the Man Who sent you the furniture.”
In 2013 My Brother’s Keeper opened a second facility, in North Dartmouth. Today, the mission has more than 3,000 volunteers. Since its founding in 1988, My Brother’s Keeper has completed approximately 115,000 deliveries to families in need.
For more information on My Brother’s Keeper, visit mybrotherskeeper.org.
The contact for the Easton office facility is P.O. Box 338, Easton, Mass., 02356-0338. For donations, volunteering, and general business, call 508-238-7512.
The contact for the North Dartmouth office facility is P.O. Box 70273, North Dartmouth, Mass., 02747-0273. For donations, volunteering, and general business call 774-305-4577.
To request furniture and food assistance from the Easton office, call 508-238-4416; for Christmas assistance, call 508-238-2562.
To request furniture assistance from the North Dartmouth location, call 774-305-4590. For Christmas assistance call 508-238-2562.