It’s hard to believe, and some of my co-workers will want to throttle me for saying this, but there are only 58 days left until Christmas. I know, I know. It’s not even Halloween yet and I keep bringing up Christmas. Yes, I’m one of THOSE people. Ask anyone who knows me at all and they’ll probably say something about what a Christmas crazed person I am (hi, Susie and Charlie!). They’re not wrong. I love basically everything about Christmas. The decorations, the baked goods, shopping for gifts for people, the music, sending out Christmas cards. Yes, I even love cold weather and snow. I blame my grandma, who loves Christmas about as much as it’s possible to love a holiday.
Of course when I was younger, Christmas was all about the latest toy or book I wanted, if my cousins got more stuff than I did from “Santa,” the various Christmas parties with family and at school. It wasn’t until I started getting a bit older that it became more than a time when I got gifts and we looked at pretty lights.
The last few years whenever someone’s asked me what I want for Christmas, I struggle to give them ideas because the truth is, I don’t want for much of anything. If there’s something I need or want, I usually buy it myself when I can afford it. Nothing feels pressing in that aspect of my life anymore, and I’m beyond grateful for that.
I think working at Dove, Inc., for the last twelve years has made me reevaluate what’s important in life, and recognize the difference between want and need. I’ve grown as a person (again, ask nearly anyone who’s known me since I started at this agency in 2004), but my love of Christmas still remains, albeit in a very different form from my childhood and even early adulthood. Instead of feeling excited about what “Santa” may be bringing me for Christmas, I get excited about how I can help bring Christmas to as many others as possible.
I do this through the Christmas Baskets Program. If you’re not familiar with how the program works, the basics are this: we work with approximately 20 other agencies and groups who refer anywhere from one to fifteen families they work with to receive a food and gift basket. We partner with North East Community Fund for this huge project, and together we do anywhere from 320 to 350 complete Christmas baskets for families in Decatur. We compare our lists against Salvation Army’s, and St. James Church’s and any others we can compare them to, to make sure no one is being “double-served” so that more families who need it can receive assistance. It’s a lengthy process that we usually begin in October and that doesn’t end until every basket has found its home.
For most of my years at Dove, Francie Johnson ran the Christmas Baskets Program through the Community Services Program. As you may know, due to the state budget, that program was cut in 2015, which means that Francie was no longer with our agency, much to our devastation. I worked in domestic violence from 2004 – 2013, then transferred to Community Services from 2013 until I was laid off due to said budget cuts. Thankfully for me there was an opening back in domestic violence and I was able to stay with Dove (because honestly, I never want to go anywhere else, and can’t imagine having to do so). I was asked by Dove’s Leadership Team to handle the Christmas Baskets Program last year, and I agreed immediately because it’s near and dear to my heart.
It’s a lot of work – literally making lists and checking them twice and three times – and fortunately everyone at Dove, as well as countless numbers of volunteers, takes part in helping to make it a success. Whether it’s helping carry donations to and from storage areas, talking to their friends and family who decide to take up a collection of items for the drive or organize a fundraiser, sorting and counting donations, shopping for hats, gloves, and toys, making stockings – everything that anyone does, no matter how small they think their contribution is – makes a difference. Last year we served 335 families (1296 individuals) with Christmas baskets. One hundred and twenty-five volunteers participated, spending nearly 500 hours in one week’s time putting things together for each family.
The generosity of people in Central Illinois continually amazes me. Whether it’s monetary giving to the program, or buying toys, or hats and gloves, or their time; the fact that we can put together a complete Christmas basket for that many families in such a short time period is nothing short of miraculous. And isn’t Christmas the season of miracles?
If you’ve never been a part of this process, I so encourage you to come out this year to the basement of First United Methodist between December 15th and December 22nd and see what we’re doing. As much as I’ve always loved Christmas, I’ve come to realize that being able to actually help so many families is where the true sense of joy and accomplishment comes from. It is giving, not receiving, that makes Christmas bright.
Administrative Specialist/Christmas Baskets Coordinator