Ginny Carroccia, a parishioner of St. Alphonsus Church in Pittsford, feels called by her faith to help others, and one way she does that is by coordinating the parish Backpack Program to benefit Rutland Dismas House and its former prisoners.

Usually during Lent Carroccia sets several plastic bins in the back of the church for parishioners to fill with things like soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, chap stick, shampoo and socks; some people give money to purchase the backpacks that are filled with the personal items and given to new residents at the transitional home. Parishioners also donate items that everyone in the house can use like coffee, paper towels, dish detergent and toilet paper.

“When people come out of prison, they don’t have anything,” Carroccia said. The backpacks and their contents help the former prisoners as they get settled.

St. Alphonsus is one of several churches that participate in The Backpack Program.

Sometimes Dismas House residents have visited the church and spoke to parishioners about their experience at Dismas House, and many parishioners “have been moved by their stories,” Carroccia said. “Many people when they come out of prison feel isolated from their families and feel they don’t belong anywhere. … But they have found a sense of community at Dismas House.”

One of several Dismas Houses, Rutland Dismas House opened in 1990. Prisoners, students, community volunteers, local colleges and officials in the Vermont Department of Corrections embrace the concept, according to the house’s website, dismasofvermont.org.

Named for the repentant thief who was crucified with Jesus, Dismas House represents forgiveness and reconciliation.

The mission of Dismas of Vermont Inc. is to reconcile former prisoners with society and society with former prisoners.

St. Alphonsus Parish has been participating in The Backpack Program for more than a half dozen years, and it grows each year. “A lot of the parishioners give out of their sense of wanting to help and reach out to someone in need. This community has always reached out to anyone in need. It’s part of our faith to help others,” Carroccia said. “I feel Jesus has asked us to reach out and treat everyone with love and compassion.”

—Originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

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