​Catholic Charities hosts eighth annual St. Nicholas Ball

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Catholic News Agency

Catholic Charities hosts eighth annual St. Nicholas Ball

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Antonio gathered friends safely for an in-person event, the Eighth Annual St. Nicholas Ball, at the J.W. Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa December 4. Guests enjoyed a black-tie evening of fine dining, seasonal and live entertainment, and spectacular auctions that fund Catholic Charities to provide basic needs, strengthen the vulnerable, nurture families, and promote self-sufficiency through a comprehensive network of programs and services.

St. Nicholas Ball is the event of the season to kick off the Christmas holidays celebrating and reflecting on the work of the agency since the last in-person gala in December 2019 before a pandemic, a snowstorm, and multiple humanitarian crises throughout the region. 2021 St. Nicholas Ball Chair Couple Bekki and Greg Kowalski assembled a talented and dedicated committee to plan an elegant event with impressive auctions and surprises for a memorable evening. Catholic Charities leadership, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller MSpS; Auxiliary Bishop Michael Boulette; Auxiliary Bishop Gary Janak, and elected officials from the city and the state were in attendance to recognize the collective work of community as leaders, advocates, staff, donors, and volunteers that strengthen the most vulnerable among us.

St. Nicholas level sponsors included The RK Group-Kowalski Family, the Greehey Family Foundation, The Klesse Foundation, and Mission Restaurant Supply. St. Mary sponsors include Malu and Carlos Alvarez, Sandy and Phil Green, Mike Ciskowski, Shavano Family Practice, MD Spine Care, Valero Energy Corporation, IPAC-Larry Benson Jr., Charles E. Cheever Jr, and Our Lady of Grace Church.

Catholic Charities’ President/CEO, J. Antonio Fernández, said, “We are so excited to once again gather with 1,000 of our friends and supporters who assist, support, and guide our agency to serve all people in our community with love and dignity. We are thankful to Greg and Bekki Kowalski for assembling a committee that have spent the last year planning a memorable event sure to kick off the holiday season.”

Fernández spoke of how COVID-19 and the year 2020 was a learning experience for the agency. “Suddenly, we needed to wear gloves, facemasks, purify the air, buy tons of hand sanitizer, and so on. We could even work from home. Well … not us,” he acknowledged with a smile. “We had to be at work day in and night for people who needed it the most. We did things we never thought possible. We saw more clients than ever. Working during the day and the night became a lot more frequent and necessary. The requests for financial assistance increased drastically as well as request for counseling and other services. Our shelters filled with moms, babies and children. We could not stop, because if we did, who was going to serve these people. I don’t think we said NO to anyone who needed services because of COVID. We even opened a counseling building to provide mental health services to the community.”

The Catholic Charities president explained how the February winter storms prompted the organization into action. “Suddenly, we had another crisis on our hands. As quickly as we could react, we were out there in the streets, serving. And something interesting happened. We connected clients to services through social media in real time. On a very snowy day, people were posting on our Facebook page where they knew homeless people were, and our mobile relief unit HOPE went to each single place and ensure every homeless person had blankets, enough coats and clothes. We gave them hot food and coffee. When we ran out of coffee, we found a parish that was opened to restock supplies. … We had many challenges in our sites. But the employees did a great job taking care of those in our care: children, moms, babies, isolated seniors. Our staff did whatever it took to provide for our clients. These employees truly rock.”

Later in the spring, Catholic Charities received a called from the federal government on a Thursday night asking if they could help with 2,000 children that were coming to the Freeman Coliseum. “In 48 hours! Of course you know what we said ‘YES’ and it was an awesome experience,” Fernández began. “Hundreds of volunteers were on site within hours. The staff and the volunteers were amazing working long days and nights. We even trained the employees contracted from the government to work with these children. We couldn’t do it alone, so we asked the community for help. Within two days we received over 2,000 applications from the local community to assist. At the same time the women religious from across the country arrived with their hearts full and their sleeves rolled up to help. Just recently, they joined us again when we were asked by the federal government to help with the Afghan refugee community who assisted American troops and the ones who worked at the American embassy. We have done these things and a lot more, and we couldn’t do anything without you. Thank you.”

He concluded by saying, “That’s who we are, doing the work that we are asked to do with love, respect and dignity.”

A “paddles up” auction sought monetary donations to assist with various expenses, including:

$75,000 — renovates the Guadalupe Community Center so neighbors can receive assistance and support with dignity.

$50,000 — purchases a 12-passenger van for the After School Program to transport children from school to Guadalupe Community Center and field trips safely.

$25,000 — funds food and emergency services for one month at St. Stephen’s CARE Center to feed families and seniors.

$10,000 — provides furnishings, mattresses, household items, and food for socially isolated seniors.

$5,000 — purchases resources for the largest Volunteer Income Tax Assistance volunteer program in the country refunding our neighbors their hard-earned money to save and supplement expenses.

$2,500 — stocks the Mobile Relief Unit with food, clothing, blankets, hygiene kits, and towels for the displaced in the community and throughout the state during times of natural disaster or crisis.

$1,000 — funds 25 hours of counseling for a person seeking mental wellness and healing for a brighter future.

$500 — creates a new garden bed that grows organic vegetables for the food pantry providing healthy, nutritious options to our brothers and sisters.

$250 — provides development books and toys for toddlers to promote positive practices and early childhood development in language, motor, social and emotional, and problem solving skills ensuring a smart start to school.