ELIZABETH, NJ - Meaning of Christmas ~ "Peace on Earth, Good will toward Men, for the Savior has come to show us how to love, and to give us the greatest gift of love."  For many, the true meaning of Christmas is to help others who are less fortunate. For believers, Christmas is everyday.

When you spend time with the employees, volunteers and supporters of St. Joseph's Social Service Center in Elizabeth, you will witness this true meaning of Christmas 365 days a year.  

Valairco Heating and Cooling president and owner Kevin McHugh and Richard Valenti recently visited the center to present a check to director Bernadette Murphy, as part of their Valairco Cares program. They received a full tour of the facility and saw the many facets involved in the center's operations to service 3,000 people each month.

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Sister Jacinta Hernandez founded the center in 1986. She started the center as a place for hospitality where all people are welcome and safe and are served with dignity. Murphy, along with the employees and many volunteers, are dedicated to continue and carry out Jacinta's mission. 

St. Joseph's provides daily lunch, soup kitchen, food pantry, farmers market, holiday gift program and job training, among other services that are offered at the center through their sister agency, the Elizabeth Coalition.

The center serves over 500 lunches daily and during the holiday season, the number can double.  This past Thanksgiving, the center gave out 700 bags of food as part of their food panty. Murphy said they couldn't exist without the support of the many communities, including parishes and community groups. 

Since April 19, 1986, the following faith communities regularly serve St. Joseph's Social Service Center: St. Helen’s (Westfield), Holy Trinity (Westfield), St. Agnes (Clark), St. John’s (Clark), Holy Spirit (Union), Church of the Little Flower (Berkeley Heights), Immaculate Conception (Elizabeth), and Temple Sha’arey Shalom (Springfield).

St. Joseph's is not a shelter, however, the Elizabeth Coalition helps with housing issues by providing hotel vouchers and their Operation Warm Heart Program. 

Murphy is touched by the holiday Giving Tree program which provides packages for over 2,000 people. Several schools and volunteers donate to this program. Volunteers from The Church of Little Flower in Berkeley Heights also collect toys and sponsors a toy sale where clients can pay $20 and pick out 9 new toys that are significantly discounted. Murphy explained that it gives the clients dignity to purchase the gifts. 

The center also provides a job training program for people that are unemployed and are re-entering the workforce. The participants are taught "soft skills" and computer skills. They need to commit to the five week program with the goal of getting a job.  

St. Joseph's operates with only three full time employees and 10 part time employees -- everyone else is a volunteer, said Murphy.  She said fundraising is their biggest challenge. The center does not accept government funding and relies on donations and grants to operate.

Whether you make a sandwich, collect toiletries, tutor in the job program, make soup, wrap Christmas gifts, donate food, goods, time, talent, or money, it all adds up to make our center a refuge for those in need, Murphy said.  

She said her biggest reward is when a guest says, “Thank you for treating me like a human being.” 

To learn more about the services provided by St. Joseph's Social Service Center and how you can volunteer or donate, visit their website https://www.sjeliz.org/.

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Editor's Note: As part of Valairco Heating and Cooling celebrating 50 years in business, they are giving back by donating $500 to a nonprofit or charity. You can nominate a charity or nonprofit of your choice here. On the site, simply click the Vote Now button and submit your nomination. After submitting your vote you will be directed to special offers that Valairco has reserved for participants!

Voting for the next giveaway ends on January 31st2019. 

St. Joseph Social Service Center and Mom's Helping Mom's were the recipient of their second donation. This round was a tie and each organization received $250. Relay for Life of Berkeley Heights was the recipient of the first $500 giveaway.