With a mission statement “Help the needy,” the local division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians for the Florida Parishes, located in Ponchatoula, is dedicated to helping the underprivileged in the parishes of St. Tammany, Washington and Tangipahoa. The organization has been in service since 2007 and actively distributes funds all year long.
Focusing on the holidays, the local AOH division concentrates on providing meals for Thanksgiving. Hibernian Ronnie Crimmins, who serves as the Florida Parishes Division’s secretary, explains, “We will work with Boning’s Supermarket to help the needy with a gift card.” According to Jimmy Kuhn, the financial secretary of the local AOH division, the needy are identified by both St. Vincent de Paul’s, a Catholic charities organization with a retail store in Hammond, and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Ponchatoula. St. Vincent’s determines who qualifies for the gift card and supplies accompanying food items. In fact, St. Vincent’s monitors individuals all year long, offering financial assistance for the payment of utility bills and other basic necessities to those in the community who cannot afford them. “There are about 100 families we will be serving this Thanksgiving,” Kuhn says.
According to the Ancient Order of Hibernians website, the national organization began in 1836 when miners from Schuykill County in Pennsylvania, calling themselves the Hibernian Benevolent Society, went to New York City to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. There, they met with a group of New York Irishmen called the St. Patrick’s Fraternal Society. It is believed the two groups joined together in an effort to create a major defense organization which is now known as the AOH.
The local Florida Parishes Division of the AOH derives its name from the short-lived Republic of West Florida, which in 1810 rose up against Spanish rule and ultimately joined the United States. The geographic area of the West Florida Republic included all the lands between the Mississippi and Pearl rivers north of lakes Ponchartrain and Maurapas, which is approximately the same region the local AOH division serves.
In the last eight years, Kuhn says that the Florida Parishes Division of the AOH has raised about $250,000 and distributed it to 25 area charities throughout St. Tammany, Washington and Tangipahoa parishes. In a roundtable discussion between Kuhn, Crimmins and local AOH division Hibernian Bruce Caliva on November 14, 2015, many of the community organizations that have benefitted were identified, and the local AOH division’s objectives and efforts were explained.
One of the most important events put on by the AOH is an annual charity auction held in the summer. Local merchants and members of the community donate items which are then auctioned off to the public. In four years, AOH has raised between $25,000 and $30,000 at the annual event. All of the proceeds raised at the auctions have been used to fund the charity’s mission of helping the needy.
The Florida Parish Division of AOH will also gear its efforts towards Christmas. Caliva says, “We’re doing the Bogalusa Food Bank.” People donate canned goods and the organization delivers them to Bogalusa. According to Caliva, “[The local AOH division] also does Christmas for Options,” an organization that helps those with disabilities live and work in the community. For those in Ponchatoula, the local division of AOH is holding a meet-and-greet with Santa Claus on Saturday, December 5th at 11 a.m. at the Ponchatoula Police Station. It is open to the public. Santa Claus will give out fruit and candy to the children who attend.
AOH is an all-male Catholic fundraising organization. A separate all-female organization called the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians also exists. The local divisions of both of these AOH organizations work together as often as possible.
Those interested in donating may contact Ronnie Crimmins at (985) 773-8965. For more information on the Ancient Order of Hibernians, please visit their website at http://www.aoh.com/. Information about the Florida Parishes division can be found at http://www.aohla.com/. Those interested in the Ladies AOH should visit http://www.ladiesaoh.com/.