By Heather Wimmer
Around 739 families signed up to receive toys from the Hickman Mills Community Empowerment Center (HMCEC) Because We Care Christmas Event this year.
On Saturday, December 17, cars started lining up before 8 am for the 10 am event in the parking lot of New Vision Christian Center and Forerunner Church near the corner of Blue Ridge and Grandview Road. It was 27 degrees outside with flurries in the air as bundled volunteers started to meet each car and check families in.
The families in each car were assigned a number which was telephoned to volunteers inside the gym at Forerunner Church. There, about 50 volunteers were waiting to find the family registration and bag up toys for all of the children in families consisting of ages 18 and younger. Runners would bring the bags out to the cars waiting in the cold. With toys in hand, the cars could pull forward to receive car-side prayers if they wished, or food assistance from the Healthy Harvest Mobile Market bus or services from University Health. The Mobile Market bus was stocked with 250 bags of fresh produce and had given almost all of them away before noon.
After the initial press of cars had been sent away with donated gifts, underwear, socks, hygiene items, prayers, food and smiles, outside volunteers took turns coming into the gym to warm up. Pastor Dennis Lester of Bethel Family Worship Center and board chair of HMCEC took a seat and shared why he has gathered so many churches and organizations to pull off this giant Christmas give away for the last three years.
“Poverty is not a disease without a cure, nor is it a life sentence without parole. You can get over it, through it, and above it with God’s help and the help of others,” Lester said. To give these families hope that their current poverty is temporary, he also offers classes on personal budget and finance, home ownership, and entrepreneurship when families register for the event. This year, over a third of the families who registered expressed interest in the classes. Lester hopes to offer them in the coming year with help from some of the HMCEC partners.
The list of partnering organizations helping and supporting the mission of HMCEC continues to grow. Volunteers for the event on Saturday came from adults and youth at IHOP and Forerunner Church, Bethel Family Worship Center, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the KCPD South Patrol. Gifts and services were donated by these groups as well: the Concerned Clergy Coalition, Grace Point Baptist Church, Universal Construction, Dollar General, Caring for Kids, Klassic Transformations, Christian Charity Church, and six schools from the Hickman Mills School District. The participating schools, new partners this year, Ruskin High School, Warford Elementary, Compass Elementary, Santa Fe Elementary, Freda Markley Early Childhood Center, and Ingels Elementary, are home to many of the families receiving assistance.
Eric Carter, financial director of HMCEC, says that the idea is not for the same families to be the ones receiving assistance year after year. He hopes that this kind of help can be a stepping stone to get them on the contributing side of the event. “Hopefully we can help people understand that you don’t have to live this way for the rest of your life, passing it down from generation to generation. Hopefully within two years or so they will be the ones volunteering instead of coming through the line, helping other people that are in need.”