The practice of "re-gifting" has taken on new meaning at St. Michael the Archangel parish in Troy.

For the past eight years, St. Michael's has left boxes in the church's gathering space, starting a week after Christmas, for parishioners to donate unneeded Christmas gifts. The gifts are distributed to local Troy charities, including Joseph's House and Shelter, CoNSERNS-U and the Roarke Center, all of which serve Rensselaer County residents in need.

The re-gifting effort is just one of many social justice projects at St. Michael's. (Read a previous story about the parish's weekly Project Dawn meals for the homeless at www.evangelist.org.)

Sister Katherine ("Kate") Arseneau, CSJ, parish life director, said the parish is happy to take any unwanted or extra Christmas presents off parishioners' hands.

"There are people that have a lot less than we do," she said. "What we don't need or we know we won't use for whatever reason, someone else could use, and we'll provide a conduit for you to make that happen."

Past donations have included sweaters, gloves, hats, scarves, mittens, books, candles, watches, jackets, hoodies, baby clothes and small toys. Winter wear is especially sought-after as cold weather hits the Albany Diocese.

The collection boxes will sit in the parish gathering space for about three weeks after Christmas. Volunteers will then go through the donations and determine how to divide up the gifts to each of the charities.

Sister Rita Duggan, CSJ, has been a volunteer with the re-gifting project for a number of years. She's familiar with needs in the area, having once served as administrator for Sacred Heart and St. William's parishes in Troy.

Sister Rita said the distribution process is different every year, because St. Michael's never knows what it will receive. The volunteers always try to give items to whoever needs them most.

"We look at what comes in [and] determine whose needs are greatest," she said. "We do a lot of sharing between the Roarke Center and CoNSERNS-U, [but] so much depends on what comes in."

Most of the re-gifted items are adult clothes. For any children's clothing that's donated, Sister Rita calls Carroll Hill School in Troy and speaks with the school nurse or counselor about getting the clothes directly to a family or child in need.

While the re-gifting collection is a help, there is still an ever-growing population of poor and homeless residents in the Troy area. Sister Rita said her first choice to send re-gifted items is often Joseph's House and Shelter, because the needs there are "great and constant."

The website for Joseph's House and Shelter says it provides shelter to an average of 1,000 men, women and children each year.

"The need's growing. Each year, it's increasing," said Sister Rita.

The re-gifting collection, she said, shows that "this is a very generous parish -- not money-wise, but time, spirit, and [asking], 'How can I help?' The generosity is wonderful."