Oklahoma fund-raiser introduces 'washers' to Wilton

In the wake of the tornadoes that ravaged Oklahoma this May, Our Lady of Fatima’s youth group immediately began brainstorming ways to raise money for the communities struggling to recover from the devastation. One of two youth ministry directors at OLF, Melanie Deluca, said the decision to organize a relief fund-raiser was really a no-brainer for the students.

“During the past few years, people have helped our area when we’ve had hurricanes, we’ve had blizzards, and people were willing to help out each other and it spoke to all of us because we all just went through a bad series of storms and floods and things like that. So when you’re seeing what was going on there, it was just a natural reaction [to help],” she said.

Julie Santomero, an Oklahoma native whose first cousin lost her home to one of the tornadoes, came up with the idea of holding a “washers” tournament and fund-raiser as an homage to the South and her home state. “Washers is really a country game,” she said. “We love it. We play it at my family reunion every year.”

Similar to the game of horseshoes, “washers” consists of two washer pits with a cup inside opposite one another. Each team stands by their pit and attempts to throw a washer into the other team’s cup, seeking to be the first team to reach a specified number of points. The games were set up on the OLF school field that, luckily, was sunny and dry after a dreary week of nearly constant rain.

Father Michael Palmer, longtime priest at Our Lady of Fatima, impressed everyone with his astonishing prowess at the game, winning his first match of the afternoon against Ms. Santomero’s youngest son, saying, laughingly, “I only bounced them in but Jack actually threw them right in there” when meeting up with fellow event coordinators Georgette Martinelli, Ms. Deluca and Ms. Santomero.

Surprise on receiving end

These four were responsible for reaching out to two churches in afflicted areas of Oklahoma: St. Benedict’s in Shawnee and St. Andrew’s in Moore. These two churches have existing funds for tornado relief efforts that OLF will be donating to in the hope of distributing the funds to the needy efficiently and effectively. Ms. Santomero — who will be making the trip to Oklahoma with her family in early July to present the money raised at Saturday’s event — said, “It’s really at their level, a local level. We talked about going through United Way or Red Cross but it was really important for us to give it right into the community.”

“We were impressed those pastors on the receiving end of this were so surprised that so far away, a youth group in Wilton, Conn., would do this and with enthusiasm,” Father Palmer added. Ms. Santomero said these churches were also shocked to hear that funds were being raised through the playing of a distinctively southern game. “They thought it was a riot!” she said laughing.

The tournament was not the only means of fund raising on Saturday, however. In addition to the $20 donation requested per team, youth group students organized a bake sale and sold “Wilton Plays Washers” shirts from Wilton Sports Shop. First, second, and third prizes for the “washers” champs were gift cards donated by Vintage Salsa, in the Wilton train station, the Diamond Deli, and the Wilton Deli.

Georgette Martinelli, Ms. Deluca’s fellow OLF youth ministry director, said donations were flooding in even before Saturday. “We already had donations of $3,000 before the function even got underway,” she said. “The support in this community is unbelievable and we’re really grateful, so grateful,” added Ms. Deluca. Ms. Martinelli reported after the event $5,000 had been raised overall.

Father Palmer, who plays an integral role in parish and youth group outreach programs, sees an increasing enthusiasm for giving back among the Wilton community. “Not just since Newtown but, really, it’s been going on for years now, among the youth there has been a greater awareness,” he said. “In fact, I think the thing they respond best to is being able to offer service to needy people.” Boasting a very active youth group that has roughly 100 student members, OLF regularly coordinates tutoring and mentoring programs with its sister parish in inner-city Bridgeport, Blessed Sacrament, and organizes various mission trips, including regular trips to foster better educational opportunities in Kingston, Jamaica.

After the success of Saturday’s fund-raiser, the OLF youth group now eagerly awaits hearing back from St. Benedict’s and St. Andrew’s, which will be reporting to the students how they distributed their donations through the Shawnee and Moore communities.

Anyone interested in donating to this cause may do so through July 1, by making checks out to Our Lady of Fatima with a notation for “Oklahoma Relief” on the memo line. “It’s helping people through service,” Ms. Deluca said, quickly followed up by Father Palmer who added, “and that spirit undoubtedly spreads. It’s a great thing to do.”

Information: OLFyouth group2@aol.com or 203-762-9080.