Following is an excerpt from an article I wrote for a local magazine. The inspiring community leaders I interviewed shared their insights on how we can come still come together and give to others during this holiday season. Perhaps they will inspire you as well!
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. – John 13:35
For many years, I’ve read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to my children during the holiday season. As the story concludes, my heart always resonates with Ebenezer Scrooge’s heartfelt promise: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
Perhaps this year more than any other in recent memory, we’ve all had to keep Scrooge’s Christmas spirit alive and well. We’ve had to be a bit more understanding with one another, more giving, more serving, more loving. We’ve discovered ways to work around each other, to celebrate and grieve with one another, that we never would have imagined would be necessary – and yet, we have carried on.
As we celebrate the holidays, we’ll also make merry in new ways. Family gatherings may be socially distant, or smaller, or via cyberspace; and giving to our community may more difficult to do in person. But we can still celebrate the spirit of togetherness and generosity that characterizes the holiday season, thanks to resourceful community leaders who have provided outlets for celebrating with and giving to one another.
While some beloved holiday activities have been canceled, such as the Monticello Railway Museum’s Polar Express, many others have been transformed into virtual events, including Millikin University’s 2020 Vespers service.
Other festivities will carry on, with adjustments for health and safety. At Four E’s Trees in southeast Decatur, families who enjoy choosing the perfect real Christmas tree each year will still be able to do so. Four E’s owner Ron Evans plans to open the tree farm on November 21 for its fifty-fifth season.
“We’re going to do our best to maintain some degree of normalcy…while keeping employees and customers safe,” says Ron Evans.
When families head out to shop for gifts, they’ll still hear the silver bells of the Salvation Army’s bell ringers, though at fewer locations. Ringers will wear masks and regularly sanitize the familiar red kettles so that families may drop in their cash and coins.
“Families can also set up their own virtual kettles and can actually ‘ring’ a bell periodically, if you will,” says Decatur Salvation Army Director of Development Kyle Karsten. “They can post it on their social media or send out information about it via email or text.”
Karsten says that setting up a virtual kettle can be done in just a few minutes at salarmy.us/decaturkettle.
As well, the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program is continuing this year, with physical Angel Trees at both Decatur Walmart locations, and virtual Angel Trees online at https://www.walmart.com/registry/registryforgood.
Regan Deering, president of the Northeast Community Fund, encourages us to give what we can, whether money, time, talents, or other resources. The organization’s watchword, “love thy neighbor,” encapsulates its mission to meet the needs of the community through its food bank, backpacks for the homeless, senior citizen gift packs, and many donated items, from furniture and household items to clothing and Christmas gifts.
“Most people know us as a food pantry,” says Deering, “but we’ve formed a new partnership with Dove helping families going from homeless to housing. And we’ll continue our partnership with Dove at Christmas. We’d like to provide toys, clothing, good winter coats, gloves, and hats, and personal care items.”
For those unable to reach out in person, Northeast Community Fund happily accepts donations from Amazon shipped directly to Northeast Community Fund headquarters. Deering says that slow cookers and electric skillets are always much appreciated. For other ways to give, visit northeastcommunityfund.org; or, check out their Facebook page, NE Community-Fund, where specific needs are posted regularly.
Along with charitable organizations, churches have had to adapt their traditional services to safely meet the needs of the community and their congregations. Tabernacle Baptist Church’s Worship Pastor Chris Gregg believes wholeheartedly that the effort is worthwhile, particularly at Christmastime.
“We will be doing a Christ-centered concert for the Christmas season,” says Pastor Gregg. “We would miss out on the purpose of the holiday if we didn’t, and people really need that, now more than ever.”
Tabernacle Baptist will host “A Tabernacle Christmas,” a Christmas concert event with choir and orchestra, on Sunday, December 20. Choir, band, and orchestra members will be safely spaced apart, and the auditorium will be sanitized and blocked off appropriately prior to the performance.
Thanks in large part to these community leaders and others, we can still keep Christmas this year. Perhaps our heightened appreciation for family and friends, and for the needs of others, will make this Christmas that much more meaningful.
Will your family and community be celebrating differently this year? How do you plan to reach out to those in need this year? I welcome your comments.
Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned. – 1 Timothy 1:5
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” – Charles Dickens