Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Article 1

The Greatest Gift of All
By Candice Black

When it comes to Christmas, one of the best gifts parents can give to their children during the holiday season is the opportunity to help children who don't have as many privileges as they do. There are several holiday charities throughout Georgia that parents can use to teach their children the spirit of giving.
West Ridge Church of Paulding County offers one such opportunity for youthful volunteers. Hope for Christmas is the church’s annual community holiday charity for underprivileged families.
Hope for Christmas spun off from A Fresh Hope, another nonprofit children’s charity, founded by then 8-year-old Waverly Gilcrease and her mother Jennifer.
For the past three years, Hope for Christmas has been an outlet for the community to come together and lend a helping hand during the holidays. Opportunities for volunteers at this event are numerous.
There’s a shopping area, face painting, a jousting area, a fun room, and people even dress up like elves,” says Gilcrease.
In the Secret Santa Shop, the children pick presents for their parents to unwrap, assisted by other children volunteers, while parents are in another room choosing gifts for their children. Last year, the church provided 4,300 children with toys and had around 1,500 volunteers.
About one-third of our volunteers are under the age of 18,” Gilcrease says.
“We’ve had really great feedback all around,” says Paul Richardson, a pastor at West Ridge and co-founder of Hope for Christmas. “My favorite stories are the people who have helped in the two previous years who now come back to donate and serve on their own.”
Having my kids volunteer and realize it’s not all about them, especially at Christmas, gave them a great perspective,” says Tara Vanaman, mother of three boys ages 9, 11, and 12.
Vanaman and her sons have volunteered at Hope for Christmas every year. Last Christmas, the boys helped their mother round up thousands of dollars of food donations from their local Kroger and unpack them at the event.
They got to see that some people are really just grateful,” she says. “This is a great event for families to participate in.”
Hope for Christmas now has its own website, at
Lordstrom’s Children’s Holiday Celebration, held at the Fellowship Baptist Church of East Point for the last seven years, is another event providing Christmas gifts for children ages 5 to 12 of low-income East Point families. At this event, the children are invited to come into the church where classrooms have been set up as toy stores and pick a Christmas gift.
They also have their pictures taken with Santa, make crafts, select reading books, and enjoy a dinner.
The Rev. Melanie Conner, founder of Lordstrom’s, reminisces about attending similar types of holiday events with her family as a child.
I remember riding the Pink Pig at Rich's,” she says, “and they would give out presents. I thought it would be neat if children got to select their own gifts instead of just being handed what they wanted to give you.”
Volunteers at Lordstrom’s help in several ways. Some of them assist the children in selecting their toys, others are stationed in the toy rooms to help keep things in order, to restock, and to assist in finding gifts. Volunteers also work with Santa to help the kids get ready for their pictures, some assist in serving the food, and others help the children with a craft project. The event relies largely on volunteers.
Without our volunteers, we would not be able to do this,” Conner says.
Both Santa and the photographer who takes the pictures of the children with Santa volunteer their time for no charge.
Well,” Conner says with a laugh, “we give them a bottle of water and a peppermint.”
“The families that attend Lordstrom’s are always excited and thankful that they will have gifts for the Christmas holiday,” says Conner. “One mother told me that she was grateful to get the picture with Santa because they did not have a family portrait. She actually had tears in her eyes!”
Conner stresses that the heart of this event is the chance for the children to know what it means to give.
This is an opportunity for the children to learn about giving,” she says. “They get to make crafts and meet Santa, but we also want them to learn to give.”
In the past, children attending Lordstrom's were encouraged to select gifts not only for themselves, but their siblings and parents as well.
We haven't been able to do that to the extent that we had in the past, because of the financial situation,” she says, “but we want to be able to get back to that point.”
Information on how to volunteer at Lordstrom's can be found at
In middle Georgia, another event opens its doors every holiday season to provide toys for children. Kids Yule Love, founded by firefighter Joe Allen in 1986, is established in eight Georgia counties: Macon, Monroe, Bibb, Dodge, Peach, Houston, Laurens, and Baldwin.
Firefighter paramedic James Weeks has taken over as director for Kids Yule Love in Monroe County.
This event is for children, children who cannot help what their parents do,” says Weeks.
The main toy drive is held at Mary Persons High School in Forsyth, while a resident provides a home for toys to be collected and sorted through. Volunteers, children and adults alike, help with the toy drives, packaging the toys for the recipients, and delivering presents. Most volunteers are families; even the families who participate in the event offer to volunteer.
The seniors classes at the high school have made it into a competition,” says Weeks. “Last year’s class raised 11,654 dollars.”
All county locations for this event are on
This holiday season, instead of rushing to spend hundreds of dollars the latest high-tech toys, parents can offer their children something truly greater than anything bought in a store: the chance to make the holidays a little brighter for someone else. Volunteer helping less fortunate children enjoy Christmas, an experience that will create longer lasting memories.