FOCA Adopt a Seminarian Project and Seminarian Family Christmas Appeal

By Allison Steffaro, Program Director

Four years ago, the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America (FOCA) began a national project entitled “Adopt a Seminarian.” This project was born of the need to assist seminary married students at St. Tikhon’s and St Vladimir’s Seminaries. Since its inception, the project has been able to raise over $80,000 and help more than 30 seminarians and their families.

Many of these students give up careers, leave (or sell) their homes thousands of miles away, and uproot their children; all to follow a calling to serve the Lord in the Orthodox Church. In many situations, it is impossible for the student to work to help defray daily living expenses, and work for the spouses is minimal at best. These families get little outside support. Many are forced to go on welfare and to forego medical insurance for their children. The “Adopt a Seminarian” Project was created to ease these burdens.

How It Works

Each year, letters are sent to each FOCA District Governor, asking him/her to read an explanation of our “Adopt a Seminarian” Project at their district convention; copies of the letter are also sent to each chapter president. The Dean of Students at each seminary compiles a list of the most needy families, based on their monthly financial shortfall. The letters are sent to the FOCA Program Director. Chapters, parishes, and districts that participate are assigned a family from these lists and are asked to pledge a monthly amount that they will then send directly to these families. Once a family receives enough sponsors to meet their total monthly shortfall, they are taken off the list. Currently 17 chapters/parishes/districts participate in the program, and have pledged gifts from $50 to $300 a month. Ten seminarians are currently on the list.

Many parishes invite these families to come and visit during school breaks. This gives parishioners the chance to associate a face and a name with those they are helping, while the families get to express their love and appreciation.

A new appeal begins each September for the next academic year. Those interested in being a sponsor to a seminarian family should contact Mrs. Allison Steffaro at
(732) 698-1952.

Seminarians are also eligible for FOCA scholarships if they have been a member of the organization for one year or more.

A second FOCA Seminarian Project

A second FOCA Seminarian Project is the “Seminarian Family Christmas Appeal,” which was begun in the year 2000 by the FOCA New Jersey District. Since that time the project has grown, and participation now comes from across the country. In 2005 Christmas “wish lists” were received from 29 seminarian families with 63 children. Fourteen parishes from four different dioceses as well as five individual families responded to fulfill these wishes. The New Jersey District facilitates the compiling and distribution of the lists to the various parishes and individuals, and then coordinates the distribution of Christmas parcels to the families.

How It Works

This is often a parish project lead by the parish’s FOCA chapter. The following is an example of how this project was implemented in one parish.

An explanatory letter and form were sent to the FOCA chapter. The chapter and parish decided how many families they wished to take on and returned the form to the Project Committee. The names of the assigned families and information about them, including sex, ages and sizes of the children, as well as a letter to St. Nicholas with their wish lists, were then sent to the sponsor.

A “giving tree” (tree made of green poster paper) was placed at the entrance of the church. The ornaments on the tree were shaped pieces of paper with a child’s age, sex, size and item (e.g., girl, age 6, size 7, pajamas). In addition to the items asked by the family, additional items were added to the tree (e.g., sneakers, socks, sweatpants, shirts, household items).

Parishioners chose items and filled the requests. They brought the purchases back to the church by an assigned date, unwrapped, but tagged for the appropriate child. The youth of the parish then wrapped the gifts. All the gifts were sent to SS. Peter & Paul Church in South River, New Jersey, to arrive no later than December 1st. From there, the deliveries were made to the seminaries.

The above is only one example of how an entire parish can participate. Those interested in filling a seminarian family Christmas wish list should contact the FOCA project coordinators in August or September. Wish lists are mailed out in the middle of October. If a chapter/parish is not interested in the activity, monetary donations are gladly taken and divided among the families.

Co-Chairpersons of the Seminarian Christmas Appeal are Allison Steffaro, (732) 698-1952 and Marge Kovach, (732) 815-9765.

Allison Steffaro is National Seminarian Assistance Coordinator for FOCA and an active member of her parish, SS. Peter and Paul Church, South River, N.J.