BRANDON– More than 700 needy families with 1,600 children were able to celebrate the Christmas experience while hearing the gospel story through Gift of Hope, a ministry sponsored by a coalition of Brandon-area churches and businesses.
This year’s event held Dec. 12-14 at First Baptist Church in Brandon distributed items for a Christmas dinner with turkey and all the fixings, donated gift cards and offered opportunities for parents to shop for free Christmas gifts for their children.
Upon arrival, each Gift of Hope participant, “came through our chapel and received prayer,” said James Blewett, family pastor at First Brandon, who served as the Gift of Hope leader. “This year we had 60 people who prayed to receive Jesus.”
Months of planning goes into preparing for the annual Gift of Hope event. A committee of volunteers met to forecast needs. Needs were relayed to participating churches and specific food items and age-related toys were assigned to individual churches for gathering. The churches collected from their congregations and later pooled together all donations.
Also, high priority is placed on making participants feel as comfortable as possible. During the volunteer coordination meetings, “we talk about how we want the tone of the event to feel like a giant Christmas party; volunteers are bright and cheery and positive,” he said.
Prior to the event parents registered to participate in Gift of Hope and scheduled an appointment at a designated location. At their scheduled time, hospitality volunteers met and ministered to them.
When they arrived at the church for the Gift of Hope celebration this year, each participant received a food container with items needed for a multi-course meal Christmas dinner. They also received a Publix gift card and Gideon’s Bible.
Next, the parents shopped for their children’s toys from the array of donated items. They even had an option for complimentary gift-wrapping provided by the volunteers.
Once home, the parents had everything needed to enjoy a delicious Christmas dinner and dessert, had the joy of giving presents to their children, and could share their experience of how God leads His people to respond to those in need.
While the program allows for those less fortunate to celebrate the holidays in tangible ways, volunteers also received great rewards.
“The most rewarding thing is when people pray to receive Christ in the prayer chapel. Everything else is kind of a means to that end,” Blewett said.
For more information about becoming involved in the Gift of Hope, contact Blewett at firstname.lastname@example.org.