By Melanie Sisinni

         “This evening’s Helping Hands Gala is a wonderful expression not only of the good we’ve accomplished together, but also of our hopes for the future,” said the Most Rev. Lawrence Persico, bishop of Erie, in welcoming guests to the 2023 Helping Hands Gala. “The work of Catholic Charities is a bright spot in the work of the Diocese of Erie.”

               The annual event, hosted by Catholic Charities, Inc., of the Diocese of Erie, was held at Gannon University’s Yehl Alumni Ballroom on Thursday, October 12. The gala is a fundraiser for Catholic Charities to help grant aid to the many affiliate agencies under their umbrella, including Catholic Charities Counseling and Adoption Services (Erie), Christ the King Manor (DuBois) and Good Samaritan Center (Clearfield). The event also traditionally honors “helping hands” in the Diocese of Erie — people who have served their communities in exceptional ways.

Bishop Lawrence Persico (left) gives Tom Loftus the Helping
Hands of Service award. 
Photo/Melanie Sisinni

         The room was decorated with traditional fall reds and oranges, and tables were adorned with floral arrangements for guests to take home at night’s end. Guests enjoyed heavy hors d’oeuvres and Heavenly Harvests — a caramel apple cider-flavored signature drink — as they browsed the tables in two different corners of the room, loaded with chance raffle and silent auction items, including a dinner for six with Bishop Persico, a hockey puck signed by Sidney Crosby and gift cards for several local businesses.

              The master of ceremonies for the evening was Ethan Kibbe of Erie News Now. Kibbe welcomed attendees at the beginning of the fast-paced planned program, thanking them for supporting Catholic Charities and the excellent work done by many of those in attendance throughout the year.

         “There are so many people here who do such incredible work for the Diocese of Erie, not just here in Erie, but throughout all of the counties that the diocese serves,” said Kibbe. “Whether that’s through assistance with securing a mortgage, a shelter for homeless men in Clearfield, or classes designed to strengthen families in Ferrell, food pantries, thrift shops and a wide array of counseling services sprinkled throughout Northwest Pennsylvania. Catholic Charities is committed to addressing immediate needs — and trying to address long-term needs as well — always, always in the name of Christ.”

         Kibbe went on to introduce Erin Tubbs, executive director for Catholic Charities. Tubbs thanked those who made the event possible and explained more about how Catholic Charities helps with immediate needs.

               “Sometimes, maybe that is just money for an electric bill. Maybe they had an “oops,” or they lost a job, or there was a missing paycheck or two, and they just need to bridge this gap until the new job and the new paycheck start coming,” said Tubbs.

              Tubbs then described how Catholic Charities takes things further to help people create a better future for themselves.

“But maybe this is a long-term issue. Maybe they need a conversation with someone to say, ‘Look, what’s going on? How do we keep getting here? How do we plan to not keep getting here?’” said Tubbs. “Agencies can both verify the need and ask those deeper questions, and we know down in our hearts the importance of both of those things. This is being prudent. It’s being good stewards. It’s also an opportunity for us to encounter a person rather than a problem, and it’s an opportunity for them to encounter a person rather than a judgment. That’s the heart of it all. When we live out the Gospel call, we are meeting people, and we are meeting the person’s need, recognizing them as true brothers and sisters.”

         The Erie Philharmonic Chamber Choir, under the direction of Tom Brooks, entertained guests with a performance specifically designed for the event. Following this, Tubbs returned to the stage to describe this year’s approach for the Helping Hands Award. Traditionally, one person or couple is nominated. However, this year, the award was split into two categories: service and justice.

Dr. Warren Beaver and Christine Beaver hold hands at their
table before they accept the Helping Hands of Service awards.
Photo/Melanie Sisinni

         “Tonight we’re giving out two Helping Hands honors to emphasize our renewed focus on charity and justice, working together, collaborating effectively, moving forward faster and better together,” said Tubbs.

         Tubbs noted that the Helping Hands of Service was meant to recognize those assisting with immediate needs. Dr. Warren and Christine Beaver received the honor for their careers of service and involvement with parish projects, Warren’s service on the Divine Mercy Encounter Retreat program board, and their active support of the Diocesan Amigos program.

         The Beavers described their service as a natural part of their lives and said the best way to understand the mission of Catholic Charities is to become involved.

         “We offer sincere thanks to Catholic Charities for all they do, and we pray that many in our community may become inspired to join in their mission,” said Dr. Beaver. “I have to offer these words from the first verses of Psalm 1:15, ‘Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name, give glory.’ Amen.”

         Tubbs then welcomed Thomas Loftus to the stage to receive the Helping Hands of Justice Award, saying that service and justice go hand-in-hand.

         “The Helping Hands of Justice honors those who take the long view, looking for the strategic solutions that will improve systems and society on a grander scale, with that effect reaching individual people,” said Tubbs.

         Loftus was honored for his service on several boards and sponsorship of the Thomas J. and Mary H. Loftus Lecture on Catholic Thought and Action series, hosted annually at Gannon University.

Jim Gallager, superintendant of Catholic schools for the Diocese
of Erie, picks up his silent 
auction prize at the end of the Helping
Hands Gala.

Photo/Melanie Sisinni

         “I’d like to express my appreciation to all of you for being here and your contribution to the resources they need to achieve their mission,” said Loftus. “I hope this is the beginning of your indebtedness to this charity.”

A brief video presentation featuring 2018 Helping Hands honorees Charlie and Anne Rutkowski closed the evening. The Rutowskis described their experience with service and philanthropy in the diocese and encouraged continued involvement with Catholic Charities.

         “How blessed we are in this community to have the Catholic Charities in our area,” said Charlie Rutkowski. “God wants us on this earth to go help the poor. Poor doesn’t just mean monetarily. Poor is mind, body, spirit, monetarily wise, all those. And that’s where Catholic Charities fits and helps all those people. Where there’s a need, Catholic Charities can meet that need.”

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         The 2023 Helping Hands Gala raised nearly $81,000 for Catholic Charities, with donations continuing to trickle in.