County Fare: Fourth-graders gather warm clothes, learn compassion


The fruits of the labors of fourth-graders at Egremont Elementary School in Pittsfield will be put to good use this week as the winter weather continues to roar in.

From December into January, the students and their teachers, Liz Dunham, Gigi Hawkins, Sarah Perenick, Darlene Sweren and Mariah West, helped students collect new hats, socks and mittens to donate to Berkshire Community Action Council.

The council, in turn, will distribute the winter accessories to area agencies serving people who are homeless or may not be able to afford warm clothing otherwise.

Together, the 90 students collected 462 items as part of their "compassion project," with other last-minute donations coming in. The classes graphed their collections on a hallway chart and wrote about it as they kept daily tallies. Student volunteers even stayed in during recess to count and sort items.

Fourth-grader Xaviar Nicholls recalled tallying a total of 110 pairs of socks in one day. "I felt proud of us," he said.

Linda Cernik, BCAC community partnerships manager, and Stef Leonczyk picked up the items presented by student ambassadors Nicholls, Charlotte Buckley, Megan Carroll and Liam Berryman. Cernik said BCAC and any local community organization serving families could use donations such as this all year-round.

"This is very important as our Holiday Giving Tree Elf drive is focused on younger children," Cernik said, "but they've given us items that will fit older children and adults. With the winter weather coming, this is going to help a lot."

Retired, still at work

On Sunday, Jan. 17, dozens upon dozens of congregants gathered at the pink church on the corner of Pittsfield's Elm and Newell streets to celebrate with a Mass of Thanksgiving and a special reception the retirement of the Rev. James A. Hager. Better known as "Deacon Jim," Hager spent 31 of his 33 years in the deaconry serving his home parish, Sacred Heart.

Along with Eugene C. Momnie, of Pittsfield, and Pasqual Baldasaro, of Dalton, Hager was ordained during a snowstorm on Jan. 15, 1983, at St. Michael's Cathedral in Springfield. The three were part of the first class of 19 permanent deacons to serve in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

Then a computer programmer for General Electric, Hager was first assigned to the Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Sheffield.

Deacons historically have been laymen who commit to taking multiple courses and training to earn their place in the diaconate, a step before becoming a priest. They have to be at least age 35, and unlike priests, they can be married.

Hager, in his case, was married to his wife, Patricia, and had four children at the time of being ordained.

"Deacon Jim was one of the pioneers," said Springfield Bishop Emeritus Timothy A. McDonnell, who spoke at Hager's retirement Mass.

During his tenure, Hager assisted hundreds of families in their preparation for baptisms and marriage. He's ministered to people in prison, in hospitals, in nursing homes or those bound to their own homes, and will continue to do so in retirement, though now without the diaconal paperwork and administrative responsibilities.

Two of Hager's children, Lisa and Steven, spoke during the reception, along with Deacon Bob Esposito, and other musical guests.

During Hager's own remarks and in the following week's parish bulletin, the now-retired deacon offered humble thanks and praise to the Sacred Heart community.

"I was so touched by the number [of people] in attendance and for the love and support shown to me and my family," he said. "It has been my honor and pleasure to serve this wonderful parish ... You will forever be in my prayers."

County Fare, a weekly column featuring "tales from throughout the Berkshires," is compiled by Eagle staffers.


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