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For over 28 years, Notre Dame Academy has packed up thousands of gifts and traveled to Harlan, Kentucky, to bring Christmas to those less fortunate. Known as Christmas in Appalachia, this annual tradition of service and relational ministry began when a few sisters of Notre Dame were teaching in Harlan. Currently during this momentous trip, students, faculty, staff and parents load a semi-trailer which takes over 1,500 presents, 100 pounds of sloppy joes, 1000 cookies and supplies to spread Christmas cheer and hope. The donations include new children’s toys, stuffed animals, school supplies, and children’s books, as well as, winter coats, boots, gloves, hats, and scarfs.
These donations will feed and provide gifts for nearly 600 Harlan residents. Once the group arrives, they set up a toy store at the local parish for families to choose Christmas gifts for their children. In the afternoon, students host a Christmas party where they prepare a meal and entertain families with a talent show, and provide two gifts to every person in attendance.
Mrs. Ruth (Ciesinski) Mikolajczyk, Class of 1955

Christmas in Appalachia would not be possible for many of these residents if it weren’t for the generous people of Notre Dame Academy. Sometimes the gifts they receive that day are all that they get. It is a welcomed tradition that takes a lot of donations and planning to make it a success. Yet for nearly a decade, there has been one anonymous donor who simply drops off boxes of brand new toys, clothing, coats, hats and gloves for men, women, boys and girls of all ages and sizes. It started out with just a few boxes, but over the years this anonymous donation has grown exponentially. This Christmas Angel Donor would come and go quickly, dropping packages and not revealing any identity. This past year, a phone call from an older female was placed to the Campus Ministry office informing them that she was unable to deliver her annual donations for the Christmas in Appalachia project because she was in a wheelchair and that her daughter from Columbus was bringing them in. After 30 boxes arrived in the front office, and some detective work of fellow staff persons, the identity of this amazing Christmas Angel Donor was discovered.

Mrs. Ruth (Ciesinski) Mikolajczyk, Class of 1955, has graciously agreed to share her story of unprecedented faith and generosity. It began when she saw a flier asking for donations to help feed and clothe the poor in Appalachia. She felt compelled to do something and this might be a good project for her to get involved. Ruth fondly remembers her days at Notre Dame Academy. High school was a great experience for her. It strongly prepared her for the years to come. “I have a guardian angel who leads me down a path. I may not know what it is or where I am heading, but because I went to Notre Dame Academy I feel that I need to pay my blessings forward,” she said. “Notre Dame gave me a wonderful education. I was able to get a job immediately after graduating which lead me to meeting my husband of 60 years, Alvin Mikolajczyk. We were blessed to have seven children and we had to be frugal,” she added. Al recently passed away this past September, but Ruth continues on with the tradition of giving. To Ruth and Al, it was very significant to teach their children the importance of giving back. And giving back is what they do. Ruth begins around Black Friday and shops the entire year for the Christmas in Appalachia and drops off her donation early November. When asked what motivates her, her response was “I like to shop and combine it with my love for giving. I shop all year long. I am a shopper. I start now for next year,” she said. She shops the bargains, buy one get one offers, deals and steals and all donations are brand new.

Now the entire family gets involved, all seven of her children and 13 grandchildren. Since she has been in a wheel-chair, they take turns going on shopping ventures with her. “I am glad she does it, it makes her feel good,” said oldest daughter, Mary (Mikolajczyk) Morrison, NDA Class of 1978. Throughout the year, family members will transport the items to the youngest daughter’s house, Jenny (Mikolajczyk) Villa in Columbus where she organizes them and put them in boxes. Christmas in Appalachia could not be nearly as impactful without the loving generosity of Ruth and her family spanning back at least 10 years. It’s hard to put a value on the tens of thousands of items that have been donated by this anonymous Christmas Angel donor, and it’s even harder to put a value on the priceless, kindheartedness that Ruth Mikolajczyk has given back to Notre Dame Academy. And for that we thank you.