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Published: Saturday, 12/20/2003

Groups to make season bright for all

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
From left, Keith Purifie, Denny Bocian, and Michael Welch share a meal at Just As I Am Christian Church in downtown Toledo on Madison Avenue. From left, Keith Purifie, Denny Bocian, and Michael Welch share a meal at Just As I Am Christian Church in downtown Toledo on Madison Avenue.
SIMMONS / BLADE Enlarge

A fir tree decked with lights and bulbs. Hot cider with a cinnamon stick. It's a Wonderful Life. Gingerbread cookies. Toy trains. Hymns and carols. A big, family-style meal.

These are the warm-and-fuzzy images that the Rev. Mark Vipond is trying to give his congregation for Christmas. But it won't be a perfect holiday at Just As I Am Christian Church. For most of the people at the party, there will be two things missing: a home and presents.

“I want to give them the sights, the smells, the feeling of Christmas,” said Mr. Vipond, pastor of the downtown church for Toledo's poor and homeless. “We're going to give them the best of the things that we know as Christmas based on our childhood memories.”

Just As I Am will host an “Old-Fashioned Family Christmas Party” at 4 p.m. Thursday.

If Santa Claus were to make a delivery, Mr. Vipond said he would ask for some practical gifts for his congregation.

“You know what would blow their minds? New coats and boots,” he said.

Just As I Am is just one of many local church and para-church groups that are combining their Christmas spirit with the words Jesus said in a parable, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Love Cathedral, the Toledo church founded by the Rev. Michael Lord - the former child evangelist known as Little Michael Lord - is holding its second-annual Christmas outreach event at 4 p.m. today at the Days Inn in Northwood.

Church members will give toys and gifts to underprivileged children and provide a meal to all who attend, said volunteer Sandra Sutton. Last year, more than 150 people received gifts and a meal.

“Project Noel,” sponsored by Cathedral of Praise/Toledo Christian Life Center, will feature giveaways of food boxes, turkeys, winter apparel, toys, bicycles, and lunches for needy families from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today at SeaGate Convention Centre, 401 Jefferson Ave.

About 40 children of prison inmates have been invited to a special holiday program Monday night at Covenant Presbyterian Church in West Toledo.

The event, sponsored by Covenant and the Korean-American Church Presbyterian Church, will start with a meal at 6 p.m. followed by a Christmas party at 7.

The children, ages 3 through 14, will hear Christmas carols played by the Korean church's handbell choir, which has been practicing for five months, according to the Rev. Yong-Jin Kim, pastor.

Members of the First Church of God on Collingwood Boulevard also will sing and perform dance routines for the children, Mr. Kim said.

Another charitable program called Angel Tree will help bring smiles to children of incarcerated parents.

The program was started in 1982 by a former Texas prisoner, Mary Kay Beard, and is operated nationally by Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship ministry. More than 5.8 million prisoners' children have received gifts from Angel Tree in the last 20 years.

Locally, about 1,000 children of prisoners will receive presents this year through Angel Tree, regional coordinator Terry Thomas said.

The gifts have been donated by members of about 20 northwest Ohio churches, he said, and will be given to the children either at their homes or at parties held in the churches.

The children are told that the gift is from their incarcerated parent, not from the church, Mr. Thomas said.

The holiday season also brings an influx of volunteers to the Cherry Street Mission, which provides about 200 meals daily and shelter for up to 66 people year round, said the Rev. Dan Rogers, director of men's ministries.

On a normal day, the Cherry Street Mission has about 40 volunteers helping to feed the poor and work at the shelter. On Thanksgiving, the number of volunteers soared to 450, Mr. Rogers said.

Christmas is another day when people seek to help others.

“Christmas is very family-oriented and on Christmas Day a lot of families come down who want their kids to see a different side of life,” Mr. Rogers said. “I think we're up to about 150 volunteers.”

Mr. Vipond said Christmas and the holidays put a strain on local poor and homeless people who lack the financial means to give presents to children and family members.

“It's not a very pleasant time,” he said. “There's a lot of blues. People see the world giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of presents. People spend money frivolously.

“There's a guy here who wanted to get a job so he could give his family gifts. And he's sleeping outside! I said, ‘Dude, why don't you give everybody a card, tell them you love them, but take the money you're making and get yourself a place to sleep.'

“But the guy would rather sleep on the streets and use the money he gets from work to buy his kids presents.”



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