Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gifts Overflowing at Christmas for Kids Program

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gifts Overflowing at Christmas for Kids Program

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Scanlan, Times-Union staff writer

The colorfully wrapped gifts were stacked neatly Friday morning, starting with the stuffed tigers and teddy bears on the steps of the altar and ending with boxes stacked high in the back pews.

Meanwhile, the welcome center next door to the gift-filled sanctuary at Mandarin Christian Church had hundreds of new bicycles parked side by side in five rows.

As soon as the church's pre-school students bustled off to class at 9 a.m., the first of 14 area social service agencies that benefit annually from the church's annual Christmas for Kids program started collecting the presents that will make the holidays brighter for their clients.

After hauling two carts of wrapped presents to a truck, Boys Home spokeswoman Jaime Dennis said 18 of their children in group care because of problems at home will feel the real meaning of Christmas this year.

"This means our kids get to feel like every other kid. When they go back to school after the holidays and the other kids ask, 'What did you get?' They got something, and something good," she said.

Children's Crisis Center program coordinator Sandra Hooper said she was "overwhelmed" at more than 30 pews filled with gifts donated to 150 of the families her agency works with.

"I have been doing this for eight years, and it never ceases to overwhelm me," she said.

The gift donation program was started 15 years ago to collect new toys and clothes for needy children in Mandarin and the city. About 50 children received gifts delivered by church members the first year. This year, 1,127 children, adults and refugees from Sudan were represented on the wish list at the church at 6045 Greenland Road. Church members selected who they want to give to by collecting labels with the client's first name, age and gift requests during services early last month.

"We tell our church membership to purchase what your heart desires and what you are financially comfortable with. But keep in mind this is the only Christmas this child or senior will get, so treat them as your own," said volunteer coordinator Lynn Bledsoe.

The same generous spirit was revealed when some of the 200 elderly recipients received new appliances they needed and some extra help from church members, Bledsoe said. …

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