It may sound like the same old story—Church group collects Christmas presents for needy kids; but tell a needy kid that! The presents that Brother Jason Muhlenkamp and his volunteer partners collect and distribute each year are huge in the lives of people struggling against poverty. And it’s always a new story for the little ones.
“Those donors are sharing the love and light of Jesus,” says Brother Jason. Then he adds a sobering fact for rural Early County: “We have 291 names this year and I have no idea how we are going to meet the need.” Though more people have found out about and are signing up for the program, Brother Jason and friends have met the need in the past and will continue to do so. Says Brother Jason, with a confident smile, “I know each kid will get something because of the generosity of so many donors.”
The gift-giving program is simple enough. There are Angel Trees, in many ways like the Giving Trees that we see in parishes. In places around the county, cutout angels are posted with a child’s name and needs. Mostly that’s in Blakely, the county seat. The angels are put out at banks and community organizations, says Brother Jason.
One parish, Holy Name of Jesus in Niceville, Fla., has sponsored more than 100 angels over the past four years. The partner-parish Communities of St. Joseph and St. Paul, in Marion and Johnston City, Ill., send backpacks for the children with school supplies and toiletries.
Marion Catholic Community of Maria Stein, Ohio, sends over 100 shoeboxes with basic needs for the older people and children. Christ Our King and Our Savior in Greensboro, Ga., has sent funds in the past to buy Christmas gifts. One generous donor sponsors 40 children every year.
Friends at C-Hope, an Early County antipoverty group that Brother Jason helps to lead, along with a local Baptist pastor, will join Holy Family parish and will organize the program this year, including distributing the presents.
With families scattered across a rural region, it’s a wonder all of the presents find their child in time. “Ideally, the recipients’ families will pick them up,” says Brother Jason, “but we’re always delivering at the last minute!”
That kind of openness is typical of Brother Jason and his coworkers. He knows that many people struggling in poverty are always in crisis. Maybe a single mom is holding down two low-paying jobs and still can’t make ends meet. What if she has only money enough to pay one bill: Which one is most important, electricity or water? The children need school clothes and supplies. Which comes first?
Compared to water or electricity, Christmas presents can be low on the list, so Brother Jason and friends help out. “People are very grateful,” he observes. “A lot of these children would not have anything.”