The Christmas season offers a myriad of outreach and charitable donation options. The choices and needs are abundant, from shoeboxes to angel trees to food boxes. It's never too early to start making plans for how you can make an impact at your future holiday events.
Are you looking for a new idea for Christmas gifting? Get inspiration from the United Methodist Communications (UMCom) team, who have made it a practice to engage in charitable outreach regularly.
The communications agency's efforts have included gifting patients at a children's hospital, donating treats and supplies for an animal shelter, collecting pencils for back-to-school needs, transporting meals to the food insecure and gathering supplies to those ministering to the homeless during the summer heat.
"Each year, we look for different organizations to support as a staff. We thought that Christmas would be a great time to support children in the foster care system," notes Julie Dwyer, co-chair of UMCom's Christmas gift outreach efforts.
The charity team tapped their contacts and quickly connected with Nancy Woodall, a foster parent ambassador for the Middle Tennessee Department of Children's Services (DCS). She lined up nine children between seven months and 17 years of age, whom the agency "adopted" as this year's agency Christmas party charity.
Woodall has personally fostered 537 children and youth over the last 40 years. "It is my prayer that we are showing these children that people care and that they are not just 'throw away' kids," she shared. "I hope that we help create some good memories for them."
Team co-chair Brenda Smotherman had a personal connection with this outreach project. She experienced first-hand the impact of such gifts when she became a foster mom overnight -- two weeks before Christmas.
"When God called me to fostering, my husband and I went from being married for 13 years with no children to being parents to a 17-year-old boy overnight," reflects Smotherman. "In a short timeframe, we had to get his overall basic needs covered, doctors visits and school enrollment completed, initial DCS meetings held, and Christmas shopping done."
Days later, they were invited to an event coordinated by Woodall for foster families.
"This Christmas party was a blessing as we were able to bond while having fun together," adds Smotherman. "On top of that, thanks to the generosity of local churches and individuals, our boy got to pick out a number of gifts for himself and received a gift card helping to alleviate some of the pressure we felt. Though a difficult time, we witnessed genuine smiles, laughter and an overall joy wash over him."
"Then, on Christmas itself, we were able to gift him personally and once again share the kindness of others. Thanks to church and work friends, he was gifted with gift cards and the news that his dream shoes were on their way," she continues. "The thought that my husband and I, and our community who he hadn't even met, cared about him brought happy tears to his eyes."
For this year’s Christmas charity “we shopped together as a family for a 3-year-old girl. My kids loved picking out clothes and toys," shares Dwyer. "It really helped us to focus on the true meaning of the season."
In total, UMCom staff donated 60 gifts and $200+ in cash.
"It was heartwarming to see all of the gifts for the foster children that UMCom employees packed under the Christmas tree at our staff party," Dwyer said. "We hope that our small gifts make Christmas morning a little merrier for these nine children."
According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report, there are over 407,000 children and youth in foster care in the United States. Though that number may feel daunting, churches have the opportunity to help one child at a time.
One way to get started is by reaching out to foster families in your church. Then, to broaden the scope, reach out to your local DCS office or the state program representative to get guidance to connect with foster ambassadors or even local case workers. If managing a child's specific list seems overwhelming, you can also collect miscellaneous unwrapped gifts for babies through teens and let the foster contacts fill overall wish lists and help establish new homes with starter supplies.
"It's always amazing to see God show up in big ways in our lives, and this gift project was one of them," states Smotherman. "Due to the number of donations, I was trying to work out transportation as my sedan couldn't handle the load. Turned out God had that worked out! One of our out-of-town employees had received a large SUV instead of the compact rental car he had requested, and he offered to transport them all for me. Thank you, God!"
For 80+ years, United Methodist Communications has been leading the church in telling inspirational stories of God’s work in the world through The United Methodist Church, reaching new people, supporting local churches in vibrant communications ministry, equipping leaders and delivering messages of hope and healing.
This essential work requires financial support. If you believe in our mission, consider a tax-deductible donation to the work of United Methodist Communications through its Foundation at ResourceUMC.org/GiveUMCom.