Seasonal aid initiative helped 175 local families afford Christmas gifts, medical bills and utilities this year

DETROIT — Christmas 2019 was a little brighter and more hopeful for several families in Metro Detroit, thanks to Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan’s seasonal Adopt-a-Family program.

Adopt-a-Family allows parishes and charitable organizations to nominate families in need across southeast Michigan, who receive monetary donations to help them afford Christmas gifts, utility and rent bills and household necessities during the holidays. This year, more than 60 parishes nominated 175 families, ranging in size from one-person households to a family of 13, said Adam Perry, development manager for Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan.

The program will commemorate its 30th year of operation in 2020, having started as a ministry of the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Christian service department before Catholic Charities took over the initiative in 2016. Over the last four years, Catholic Charities has served 983 families, totaling $422,081 in aid, which is given to parishes to distribute to the nominated families.

In the past, Catholic Charities gave out gift cards. However, this year the nonprofit wrote checks to provide more freedom for the families. Perry said beneficiaries have total autonomy to choose how they spend the money.

Adopt-a-Family allows parishes and charitable organizations to nominate families in need across southeast Michigan, who receive monetary donations to help them afford Christmas gifts, utility and rent bills and household necessities during the holidays. This year, more than 60 parishes nominated 175 families,
Support from Catholic Charities' Adopt-a-Family program helped families like Laura Tarczy's afford Christmas gifts.

“Giving that freedom to the client is part of the gift,” Perry said, adding the act of trust tells the client “we believe you; we believe you are going to do what's best in the situation. We are not going to put you in a box and say this is exactly what you need to do.”

Shameeka Harris, along with her husband and four children, was one of the 2019 recipients. Harris said she was unable to buy her children Christmas presents this year, and an inquiry at a food bank led her to Catholic Charities.

As a result of the aid she received, Harris was able to pay her DTE Energy bill and give her young children gifts to open on Christmas morning — an experience Harris found both overwhelming and exciting as she watched her children unwrap toys and electronics that she did not think she would be able to provide.

"It was a positive and good experience and I am just so happy and blessed that my family was able to be chosen,” Harris said.

Laura Tarczy said the money from Catholic Charities' Adopt-a-Family program will be a significant help, but the gift also gave her the simple consolation of knowing people care.

Beyond the tangible financial support, the Adopt-a-Family program provided something much greater for Laura Tarczy’s family: hope. The Macomb single mother of three has been spending several days a week at the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, 90 miles away, after her youngest son, 2-year-old Grayson, was born with severe congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH).

During an ultrasound while 18 weeks pregnant with Grayson, Tarczy learned he would be born without a diaphragm, leaving his organs vulnerable as they developed cramped entirely in his chest, hindering his lung development. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, approximately 1,600 babies are born with CDH every year in the United States. Because there is no cure, doctors can only address subsequent symptoms, and Grayson will spend his entire life with difficulty breathing and increased susceptibility to sickness.

Grayson Tarczy, 2, was born with severe congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH). Grayson, seen holding a photo of himself as a newborn, will spend his entire life with difficulty breathing and increased susceptibility to sickness.

Since Grayson’s birth, Tarczy has been alone in taking care of her children, with a lack of access to reliable personal transportation and medical bills for Grayson’s supplements and digestive aids — which are paid out of pocket — piling up. Tarczy said the money will be a significant help, but the gift also gave her the simple consolation of knowing people care.

“We really haven’t gotten a lot of help from people, and I really don’t have a lot of family and stuff, so just having people reach out and know that they care was huge,” Tarczy told Detroit Catholic.  

Tarczy hopes that those who donated to Catholic Charities’ Adopt-a-Family program, or who are considering a gift to support the nonprofit’s charitable ventures, will see how much good their donations do for families with nowhere else to turn.

“If it wasn’t for Grayson, I wouldn’t be in the situation I am (in),” Tarczy said. “I always worked, I had a house, I had everything. And then he was born and it changed everything for me. … To me, this is close to my heart.”

 “I just want people to know that their donations go to stuff like this,” Tarczy added.

Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan

To learn about how Catholic Charities supports families in need throughout Metro Detroit, or to make a donation, visit ccsem.org. For information about Catholic Charities' annual gala, will will take place April 3 at Petruzzello's in Troy, visit the event website