Above: Under the Tree: The beautiful and bountiful packages have been gathered for distribution to children in DCYF care, as well as McAuley House and McAuley Ministries.
By Maura Legare
In the fall of 2009, former Our Lady of Mercy school moms Cindi Paliotta and Cheryl Dacey were taking a leisurely walk and “trying to solve the world’s problems,” as moms so often do. Dacey, a social worker for DCYF, was concerned about the challenges that the upcoming holidays often present to the children in state care, as well as their parents and the foster parents who care for them. It was then that the idea for a “Holidays for Children” event was born.
Paliotta proposed a holiday party for friends and family in the community – OLM, East Greenwich, Cowesett and beyond – to help make a difference in the lives of these children who offen felt forgotten around the holidays. She would host it at lunchtime while all the kids were in school at her Cowesett home for the next dozen or so years, complete with delicious and festive lunch and treats. Before the advent of text chains and Sign Up Genius, which currently make the process a bit more streamlined, countless group emails and phone calls with the children’s wish lists were utilized to help spread the word so people could “adopt” the children for the holidays.
That first year alone, over 60 children were adopted and all of those in attendance were “hooked.” Year after year, with Paliotta working her magic in creating a beautiful event that people looked forward to each year, the party would draw dozens, with upwards of 120 children being adopted at one time. Thanks to the generous support of various companies in the community, the numbers of children adopted continued to grow as well, averaging 90 to 100 children each year. According to Paliotta’s estimation, “We have made Christmas wishes come true for close to 1,500 children since the party first began.”
Even in 2020, at the height of fears around the Covid pandemic. Paliotta hosted a “drive through” event, with people dropping off their gifts in her driveway while she and Cheryl greeted people with cookies, hot cocoa and a healthy serving of gratitude.
Earlier this month, the 15th such gathering was held for the second consecutive year at Circe in East Greenwich and the spirit of generosity in the room was as strong as ever, especially thanks to the surprise addition of a visit from Santa himself. Many of the original attendees were there, enjoying an annual “reunion” of sorts. While children have grown and graduated from OLM, high school, college and beyond, the true spirit of the event – reaching out to make Christmas magical for children in need – has remained unchanged.
“This event each year kicks off the holiday season for me and for so many people, and we can never fully express our gratitude for what it means to them,” Dacey said at this year’s gathering. New two years ago was the addition of children from McAuley House and McAuley Village in Providence, whose Christmas wishes are also made possible, thanks to the generosity of this amazing group of women who show up, year after year, with open arms, loaded with toys and gifts, and hearts full, knowing they’ve made some children’s holidays just a little bit brighter.
As Paliotta says each year in greeting her guests, “You are all angels.”
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