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A Priest Moves & Saint Thomas the Island Receives Hurricane Relief Books

Serendipity brought me to an unplanned brunch after church one day when I went to my favorite restaurant, Cherie Inn. As I waited for my table, I saw two friends I hadn't seen in some time & chatted with them asking how their recent vacation to Saint Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands had gone. They told me it was still very devastated from Hurricanes Irma & Maria in 2017. They asked me to join them for brunch & as we talked of other things my mind went to how many belongings the islanders had lost. As a Professional Organizer I see two sides to the Power of Purging: the relief of letting go of unwanted belongings & the relief of when those belongings make it to someone in need. Those items take on a new story & can change lives. It's the butterfly effect. One small change can lead to many other larger changes. I asked my friends what the islanders needed as I could start a call to action among my clients, those that I can reach through my Organized by Melissa facebook page, family & friends. I learned that what the islanders needed were books. You see, although some books were left after the storms those books had become moldy & their library shelves were now empty, many months later. My heart ached. A world without books. None at the libraries, none in the schools. I later learned that the Saint Thomas Book Drive was being done to help the islanders achieve a sense of normalcy. What they needed to achieve a sense of normalcy were bedtime stories, inspirational quotes, a fictional land where one can escape to, & knowledge. Normalcy. This fueled my fire even more to ask my clients to donate to this worthy cause. I began gathering books from my clients & my friend generously paid the shipping.

At the same time I was also learning that my church (the place I had left before the serendipitous brunch) has a clothing center. I've set a goal for myself to give back even more than I have ever before so I've started to try to actively connect the dots whenever I can even more often than before. I go to church at the Cathedral of Saint Andrew in the Heartside Neighborhood in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This neighborhood has a lot of people in need in it & after asking some questions I found out that the Cathedral's Clothing Center gives away the clothing donated for free to those in need. I spoke with Father Geaney, the Rector of the Cathedral & told him what I do for a living & that I'd like to help get my client's clothing directly to our neighborhood. He welcomed the idea & I found out the details & went to work dropping off many beautiful pieces my clients have generously donated. In the meantime, Father G is preparing to move to Boston for the next chapter of his priesthood journey into his golden years. However, he's going to be extremely active in his new placement so it's not truly retirement. Since I started attending Mass at the Cathedral I've enjoyed Father G's words & messages, his global perspective, work to reach across religions, his writing on equality & rights for women & minorities along with the call for us all to be holy in our everyday lives reminding us that the Saints are, after all, people just like us. I've become very happy that my home landed so close to the Cathedral. After we spoke about the clothing center & how I can help he emailed me that while preparing for his move he realized he may be able to enlist my services. He was particularly interested in finding a home for many of his beloved books as he didn't want to move all of them from Grand Rapids to Boston as he is downsizing from 2 large offices & 1 room for his living quarters to just one room total in his new location. I was elated! The timing was synchronicity for sure, a God wink if you will. The dots were connecting. I had just the place for his books to go...Saint Thomas. I explained the logistics of it & why they were in need & he agreed he'd cover the shipping & pay me for my work. I offered to donate my services to the Cathedral since giving my time is something that's easier for me to give than finances right now & he was extremely appreciative.

We went to work on his office in the rectory 1st, a beautiful space in a building built in the 1920's, his office with dark hardwood surrounding you in a warm hug as you enter the space, beautiful textured wallpaper & tile floors outside his office that are classic & just right for the home. I was getting to see a space I had walked by many times before & as always, thankful I got to be inside someone's home. It's always fun to see & special when it's someone that is doing such important work not just in my community but has in the decades prior to this. You see, Father Geaney joined the seminary at 16 & has lived all over the country. He was a priest to the stars in Los Angeles at Saint Paul & has a funny story about Gregory Peck. His work has largely encompassed Media Broadcasting & as I worked on packing the books he was graciously letting go of I learned we had some things in common & I found a kindred spirit in him. He has a background in acting I didn't know about & told me a great story of doing a staged reading in L.A. I can see in his homilies each week his acting background, his public speaking skills are a treat for all of us in the pews. He's a wonderful storyteller & weaves analogies into lessons in a way that is meaningful to me. It was fun to see his trophy from his work in Baltimore when an ad campaign he had created with a newly started (and still very successful) ad agency won the Cleo Award in 1979, an unusual award to go to a church. He told me the story of how it came about complete with how the agency had a truck brought to Baltimore from L.A. to get the perfect shot & that the gentlemen creatively paid homage to the movie the Godfather (which was huge at the time) lighting the church in many beautiful, bright candles, similar to a scene in the movie. I loved all of this. His stories of his work in Memphis were wonderful too. As I packed the boxes I could see his travels & work had brought him many blessings & among them an abundance of books. I was excited to see the wide span of genres we shipped to Saint Thomas, from The Hunger Games to a book full of Benjamin Franklin Quotes to books on politics from both sides of the aisle to books on how to be a good preacher. Who knows how someone's life will be changed from this wonderful collection.

Today, Father G & I shipped 12 boxes of books weighing a whopping total of 450 pounds to Saint Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. Hands on as always, he loaded & unloaded the books beside me & was the one to wheel the tremendously heavy carts into the Post Office. We were greeted by women who were very helpful. The books are scheduled to deliver on July 2nd, the day before Saint Thomas the Apostle Feast Day. "Perfect timing," I thought. Saint Thomas is the Saint of Architects. What better Saint feast day than both the island's namesake & the Saint of Architects since the island is still rebuilding for the books to arrive just before? I also love that Father G & the Cathedral are Paulist Priests who give the Word a voice by meeting the needs of people today. Like shipping books to people in need recovering from hurricanes. When I returned home I called down to Saint Thomas & told them that the shipment was on it's way. They were excited & told me thank you & to be sure to share their thanks with my Priest. She told me that the books would go straight to the people upon arrival, being sorted based on whether or not they should head to schools or libraries. I asked her to call me if there was anything else they needed & I would make sure the abundance we have here would reach them so long as I can find a way to get it there. Which leads me to an idea. Wouldn't it be something to reach around the country & the world to find out what people need to not just survive but thrive to reach normalcy after natural disasters? Of course, food, shelter, water & clothing is where emergency funding goes first, as it should, so why not find out what else communities need to get back to life the way it was before or perhaps even better? This seed we're planting with the books may grow into a bountiful garden down the road & I hope that I can help make it grow. If you know of items that are unique that people are in need of please do let me know. I'd like to spread the word to as many people as I can. Why not fill in the gaps with things that are moving out of homes anyway? Supporting our communities, near & far. That's the Power of Purging. It fills my heart with happiness to help in this way. Thank you Father G for the wonderful conversations, for your donation & for all of your inspiration. Best wishes to you in Boston!

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