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For the last 50 years, parishioners at St. Philip Church in Franklin have distributed Christmas baskets of food and gifts to needy families in the community. This year, parishioners gathered on Wednesday, Dec. 18, to wrap gifts for about 300 families. The Halliday family, from left, Molly, Emma, Clare and Marty, were among the parishioners helping to wrap gifts. Photos by Andy Telli

In December 1969, the Men’s Club at St. Philip Church in Franklin delivered Christmas baskets of food and gifts to six families in need, all of them St. Philip parishioners.

In the 50 years since, the Christmas basket program has grown into the parish’s largest annual charitable outreach event, delivering Christmas baskets to roughly 300 needy families in Williamson County and care packages to local nursing home residents each year.

“This is my fifth year helping with the program, and it’s amazing to watch our parishioners pull it off every year,” said Mark Wenzel, president of the Men’s Club. “Everyone is so generous in sharing their time and treasure.”

The club begins planning the logistics for the program in September. Its members receive family names from GraceWorks, a non-denominational Christian organization in Franklin that provides material and financial assistance to families in need.

The club then determines who will be overseeing each task. And they order roughly $38,000 worth of food, trusting that their fellow parishioners will help them foot the bill once December rolls around.

“It truly is an act of faith for us to pull this off each year,” Wenzel said. “Every year we trust that the people of St. Philip will do their part to make our vision a reality and they never let us down.”

Once the financial donations for the baskets are collected, any leftover money goes to GraceWorks and other local charities that care for the poor and needy.

The program itself is a week-long undertaking. It typically begins the second or third week of Advent, with appeals at all the weekend Masses for Christmas gift donations for basket recipients and financial donations.

From then until the following Saturday, activities are scheduled each day of the week for parishioners of all ages to participate. The food supply trucks need to be unloaded. The Christmas gift donations need to be collected, sorted and wrapped. The food baskets need to filled. The nursing home residents need to be visited. And the food baskets need to be delivered to their recipients.

Hundreds of parishioners show up every year to help in one capacity or another.

“I especially love the gift-wrapping day because that’s when the most kids and families show up,” Wenzel said. “It’s so great to see our younger members get so excited about helping others.”

“It really is a team effort to get everything off the ground, and I’m moved every time to see our entire community pitch in to help out in different ways,” he added. “One year I came in to help with the gift wrapping, and I could barely walk because the parish center was crowded with people sitting on the floor. There’s always a great turnout every year.”

Wenzel is proud of all the Christmas basket program has accomplished over the last 50 years, and especially of the men who help put it together every year.

“It’s awe-inspiring to see an event that started with such humble beginnings grow into something so big and meaningful for our parish,” he said. “I’m blessed to be part of a group of guys who make this a priority every year.

“It’s not always easy for the Men’s Club to meet and plan activities together. We only meet once a month and not all of us go to every meeting because we’re busy with work and our families,” he said. “But a lot of us make it a point to help with the Christmas basket program and I love to see that.”

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