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Santa Sets Up Workshop at RIC’s Interfaith Center

From left, RIC student Chelsea Titterington; Jane Lutrario, coordinator of Interfaith Center; RIC student Cynthia Rego (seated); and RIC student Alyssa Mullen-Torrey.

From left, RIC student Chelsea Titterington; Jane Lutrario, coordinator of Interfaith Center; RIC student Cynthia Rego (seated); and RIC student Alyssa Mullen-Torrey.


Santa’s elves have spent weeks at RIC’s Interfaith Center poring over Christmas lists from 60 local children. The Giving Tree is an annual event sponsored by the Interfaith Center through which faculty, staff and students pledge a gift for a needy child.

In the elves’ busy workshop (the meditation and prayer room of the Interfaith Center), RIC student volunteers sat on the floor, checking items on their lists and then checking them twice. The floor was strewn with gifts and festive wrapping paper, while Jane Lutrario, coordinator of the Interfaith Center, busily supervised them with the same warmth and cheeriness of Mrs. Claus. She even wore a string of tiny multicolored Christmas lights around her hair bun that blinks off and on.

She explained that the gifts are for families who are either homeless or marginally surviving. Many of these families go to missions for food and clothing. Once a week they receive an allotted box of food and are allowed to pick out one shirt or one pair of pants for each member of the family. At these missions, the families also register for Christmas gifts, and some of those lists come to the Interfaith Center.

The most requested gifts are gift cards to Walmart, Target or Kmart, said Lutrario. “Children prefer gift cards because it allows them to actually pick out their own shirt or jacket or pair of pants in a color and size that fits them,” she explained.

She said that the donations exceeded the requests this year, with almost half of the donations coming from RIC students and student organizations. The extra gifts will be sent to any charity short on gifts this season.

As a representative from the St. Vincent DePaul Mission came to pick up packages for distribution, Lutrario was already making plans for next year. She said, “Though I think it’s important that the Giving Tree be labeled The Giving Tree rather than the Christmas Tree because we’re all on different faith journeys, I have a vision for a different kind of tree. Because the Interfaith Center is home to atheists and agnostics, humanists, Buddhists, Hindus, various Christian denominations, Muslims, Jewish and heathen (the Saxon tradition) and I have been safe-zoned trained for the LGBTQ community, I’d like to refashion the tree so that in place of pine needles there are hands – a more universal symbol.”

And Lutrario’s wish for Christmas? “Time with family,” she said. “I do Sunday dinner every week. Sometimes it’s just my husband and I, and sometimes there are 15 people sitting around the dinner table. I never know how many people are coming until they start showing up. If you come to my house twice you’re family.”

And that’s one more wish checked off Santa’s list, as his sleigh arches over the rooftops and his hearty cry trails off in the distance, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”