One of my favorite projects at church is our annual St. Nick project. An amazing woman in our congregation named Teri came up with the idea 24 years ago, and it has been growing ever since.
Teri recognized that there was a need in rural communities throughout our state for Christmas gifts for low-income families. In our city, there are many resources for families to be able to provide gifts for their children, but in many smaller communities, the amount of community resources isn't great.
So, Teri got in contact with county caseworkers throughout the state. The caseworkers agreed to provide her with names of families, a brief synopsis of the circumstances under which the family has fallen, and a few gift suggestions for each member of the family.
Beginning in November, members of our congregation sign up to adopt these families in need. Families can choose the size of family they wish to adopt. Then, in December, we all get together for a wrapping party.
This year, I was assigned a family of nine. I adopted three people and I volunteered to do "extra shopping" for members of our congregation who prefer donating money rather than doing the actual shopping.
The mother of the family was my age - 23 - and together with her boyfriend, they have seven children under the age of nine. If you do the math, you'll know that these parents were just kids themselves when they started their family. It's very sobering to me to think about what my life would be like with even one child, and I can't begin to wrap my head around what life would be like with seven children. I know many married couples with stable incomes that wouldn't even think about trying to raise seven children.
It is suggested that we only spend $25 per person in our adopted family. So, on Black Friday, I went to Wal-Mart and put $25 worth of gifts in my cart for each person in my adopted family. I stared at the cart and felt like I was giving away nothing.
This happens to me every year. So, as usual, I went over budget.
Way over budget.
I couldn't help it. Christmases were always really good at my house. They still are. I just couldn't bear the thought of seven young children opening up only one or two gifts on Christmas morning.
Now, I know that Christmas is about much more than opening presents on Christmas morning, but for this family that I don't know and will never meet, I hope that the things that I bought them - books, games, movies - will provide them with some activities that can be done together so that they may grow closer as a family. Most of all, I hope that the gifts that I purchase will give them a sense of hope in the midst of some really hard times that their family is going through.
When it came time for the wrapping party last week, there was lots of work to be done:
I always invite at least one of my friends to come with me to help wrap. This year, since my friend Ashley shared with me that she loves wrapping presents, I invited her. She was a great helper!
I love that this project at my church allows for families to show compassion for those who are less fortunate. While we were wrapping, I loved listening to what this father was telling his son about giving and receiving.
This sweet boy helped pick out the gifts that his family gave away, and I could tell that he learned a good lesson in the value of a dollar. He, like me, felt bad for not being able to do more for their adopted family.
As a congregation, we bought gifts for 420 people this year. And after only two-and-a-half hours, all the presents were wrapped and packaged for delivery.
It is my prayer that these gifts will be a blessing to those who receive them this year.