Sisters embrace lessons of giving

2 aid area families via Catholic Charities' Project Bethlehem

Sonja Delaney, center, and her daughters, Olivia Hann, left, 14, and Amelia Hann, 10, pose for a portrait next to their Christmas tree in Waterville.  Through Project Bethlehem they have been able to purchase Christmas gifts for two needy families.
Sonja Delaney, center, and her daughters, Olivia Hann, left, 14, and Amelia Hann, 10, pose for a portrait next to their Christmas tree in Waterville. Through Project Bethlehem they have been able to purchase Christmas gifts for two needy families.

Ten-year-old Amelia Hann found the perfect way to use her “giving money” this Christmas.

She, her sister, Olivia Hann, 14, and their mother, Sonja Delaney, sponsored two families who applied for help through Catholic Charities’ Project Bethlehem. They picked out household items such as dishes and towels as well as toys and pajamas for the children and lots of cute, cuddly baby things for a couple expecting their first child.

“We got a super soft blanket. I really wanted to keep it because it was so soft,” Amelia said.

The idea was giving, not keeping, a lesson Ms. Delaney said she tries to teach her daughters all year round.

Both girls set aside 20 percent of their allowance as “giving money” — the rest is divided between spending and savings — and they look for ways to use that money in a meaningful way each year. They also volunteer at La Posada Family Shelter in Toledo’s near south end.

“It’s eye-opening,” Ms. Delaney of Waterville said. “I know at least the first time we went to La Posada the girls were like, ‘Oh my gosh, people live in houses like this?’ and it’s like, ‘Yes.’ We live very sheltered lives. We do.”

They decided Project Bethlehem would be a great way to directly help local families in need.

Vickie Williams, case manager for Catholic Charities’ permanent supportive housing program, said Project Bethlehem provides Christmas presents for families who otherwise would have no gifts to open. Some are families who have stayed at La Posada or are still there. Others have gone through the agency’s adoption, emergency rent assistance, or supportive-housing programs.

The project relies entirely on the kindness of corporate, church, and individual donors like Ms. Delaney and her daughters.

“You help a lot of families that wouldn’t have a Christmas if it weren’t for Project Bethlehem,” Ms. Williams said. “It’s very rewarding for us, and it makes us feel really good when they come and pick up the gifts. One young woman was just overwhelmed. She said, ‘Oh my God. My babies will have a good Christmas.’”

This year, 65 families or individuals were sponsored through the program, Ms. Williams said.

Tiffany Griswold was one of them. A mother of two young boys, she said they had been living at Beach House Family Shelter before recently moving into their own apartment.

“I was homeless,” she said. “I appreciate the things they did give me because I didn’t have anything.”

Ms. Delaney was not homeless, but she said she was raised by a single mother in a home where money was scarce. Now president and chief executive officer of Midwest Community Federal Credit Union in Defiance, she said she wanted things to be different for her children.

“My goal in life was work as hard as I could and have my own family some day, but make sure they don’t have to ever go through that,” she said. “However in making that a goal, I didn’t want to insulate them from a lot of the realities of life, that there are a lot of people who need help, who aren’t as fortunate as we are.”

They got involved at La Posada after reading a story about the family shelter in The Blade. They and some friends adopted two rooms, decorated them, and made them more homey for the guests. This fall, they worked on landscaping at the shelter’s playground.

“Money’s great, but time and actually getting out and interacting with whatever organization is important,” Ms. Delaney said. “I think sometimes it’s easy to write a check, but it’s a bit more challenging for us to go out and actually do the volunteer work and get involved with the people and make a positive impact that way.”

Olivia, an eighth grader at Anthony Wayne Junior High School, said her first experience at a homeless shelter was a visit to the Sparrow’s Nest with her Girl Scout troop. They helped make food and bake cookies for the women there.

“They were probably all very nice people there. It was just sad to see some of them like that,” she said. “It always makes me feel bad too because sometimes I’m ungrateful.”

Amelia, a fifth grader at Fallen Timbers Middle School, said the people she’s met at La Posada have been nice, and appreciative of whatever help she offers. One thing she knows for sure: People need help all year round.

She’s seen it. Her mom has made sure of that.

“I want them to see the realities of the world, that there are a lot of struggles out there, and if you can help and pay it forward then that’s our responsibility to help and pay it forward,” Ms. Delaney said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: or 419-724-6129.