Saturday we did our Third Annual Nativity Project. (See here for how it started.) This year, we partnered with a local community center--the Neblett Center--that was much bigger than our previous venues. In addition to its increased size, the Neblett Center was also in a prime location, as it's near the heart of the poorer side of town.
Like previous years, our Sunday School class has been collecting gently used clothes and toys throughout the year. A week or two ago we all met up and sorted what we had, which subsequently filled a 10-ft. trailer to the max with some items left that wouldn't fit. Over the next week, our class received several more donations, but we also were given some anonymous monetary donations, too, totaling over $1600. So a second trailer was acquired (a 12-footer now) and again was filled to the brim with stuff left. Everything that couldn't fit was loaded into vehicles, and on last Friday, all of it was brought to the Neblett Center.
The Neblett Center is a after-school type facility for children & babies to go while parents work. It's not as big as an average elementary school, but it's still rather large, and our class was given the gym to setup in. It turned out that there were several kids still there, and they all watched with wonder as we bustled many, many boxes & bags in. Cheers of delight and excitement made the unloading process an absolute blessing.
Soon, all was unloaded, and then we began the daunting task of unpacking and organizing. We spent the next several hours piling items on top of tables and bleachers, and when we left, the gym was transformed. God provided so much for us this year to give that the previous years were as nothing compared to this. If we liquidated all the goods, I'd estimate we gave away well over $5k worth of things. Winter coats. Jeans. Shoes. Toys. Wrapping paper and gift boxes. And clothes and clothes and clothes.
Saturday morning came early, and we arrived at 7:30. A few small things were left to unpack and set out. But my day was going to be different. I wasn't going to get to be in the gym and help parents "shop" for their kids, for their families, and for themselves. (Note: A staggering number of people selflessly shopped for others, especially young siblings. They wanted to get gifts for their brother or sister, sometimes several, and not a thing for themselves. Amazing. Humbling.) I wasn't going to help go through the piles of clothes and look for certain sizes. No, my day was different. I was going to be Santa Claus.
|Santa and Avonlea|
We had a room off to the side for the kids to play and color in while their parents shopped. In the same room we set up a photo shoot for kids to get pictures with Santa. I donned the suit, took a seat, and experienced the wonderful joy (and occasional sadness) of being the Fat Man. Almost every child that entered got this glow on their face when they saw me. Some where bashful. Some were in awe. A few were terrified. One little girl ran up to me and jumped in my lap and put her arms around me and squeezed, saying "I'm so very happy to see you Santa Claus!" I think my heart grew enormous there. She kept sneaking peeks at me throughout the day, always smiling and blushing. For some, the magic of Christmas still exists. One boy, when asked what he wanted for Christmas, responded with "a belt." That was it. No toys or electronics or race cars. No, he only wanted a belt. Still, through everything, these kids got to see Santa and get a free picture taken with him. Hopefully they'll cherish that; I know I will.
By eleven o'clock, a lot of the stuff was gone. I had successfully sweated my last three hours away and Santa had left the building. By noon, the doors were closed and still a lot remained. We talked with the Neblett Center director and he said they'd like to keep all the stuff and bring it out again in a couple of days/weeks. He knew several people that couldn't make it on Saturday, plus he'd go door-to-door in the neighborhood and invite folks. He had a general idea of who the needy were. We eagerly agreed.
Now it's over. The event is exhausting and draining, but it's something so to behold. We started this ministry three years ago just trying to make a difference in people's lives. We wanted to show love to those in need and possibly provide Christmas to families that wouldn't have had one otherwise. God has blessed our class and this mission tremendously in these three years, and I suspect we've grown more from it than any of the receivers of gifts. We've already started planning next years, brainstorming on what worked and what didn't. We're thinking of ways to raise funds to get even more. God is a mighty God, and He delights in showing His love.