A whole lot of jolly was going on in mid-December with food basket deliveries and The Manger, GraceWorks’ Christmas gift program.
We had volunteers from many churches deliver Christmas dinner baskets to nearly 900 families experiencing poverty! Christmas was made even more joyful this year at The Manger where we provided gifts for 670 families in eight sessions at Church of the City in Franklin and two sessions at First Baptist Church in Fairview.
When families entered The Manger room, they were surrounded by volunteers in reindeer headbands and blinking Christmas light necklaces, the sound of Christmas carols, and gifts everywhere they looked.
The Manger, now in its 28th year, displays toys and adult and teen gifts in a store-like setting to allow families to select their own gifts. Families are accompanied by personal shoppers, have their gifts wrapped and are helped to their cars in a caring and merry atmosphere.
Each family who came to The Manger had a story. Here are a few from the people who will have a merrier Christmas this year because of the gifts contributed by our generous donors.
When Jennifer* entered The Manger, she was already feeling blessed.
She spent last Christmas at the bedside of her 3-year-old daughter at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. Her daughter had been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. While the hospital does its best to make the most pleasant Christmas possible for patients, nothing could alleviate the helplessness and heartbreak of watching her child suffer a life-threatening disease.
But after 18 rounds of chemo, her daughter is in remission this Christmas, and The Manger made it possible for Jennifer to provide presents for her four children.
“This is the best Christmas ever,” Jennifer said.
The best of all Christmases. A Christmas with gifts she chose herself at The Manger. A Christmas dinner of ham, potatoes, green beans, dessert and all the fixin’s from a GraceWorks holiday food basket. A Christmas when so many celebrate the long-ago birth of a child, Jennifer can finally believe in the rebirth of her own child’s life.
Martha* lost everything when Hurricane Florence hit the Carolinas. She, her two sons and her mother rented a condo near the beach, and flooding and high winds wiped out all their possessions, including their vehicle.
She moved to the Franklin area in September with nothing but her family. Her mother has dementia and is unable to work. Her younger son is still in school. She and the older son found jobs immediately, but do not make enough money to provide Christmas this year. Without a vehicle, they Uber to work when the weather is bad, but when the weather is passable, they walk to their jobs – seven miles away from they live.
“She is super-sweet and was so grateful for being able to actually have Christmas this year,” said a volunteer who had listened to her story.
Jill*, a single mother of three, spread out her jacket to hide her children’s presents as they were wrapped. Her two older sons ignored her and chased each other around the displays, but her toddler daughter was not so easily deceived.
The daughter spied the baby doll on the table and demanded it immediately. She placed the doll on the floor, solemnly bent over and kissed her new baby – over and over again.
She refused to release the doll and ignored her mother’s offers to carry it. She marched out wearing her little pink fuzzy coat, bearing her prize and still sneaking kisses.
One couple split apart as soon as they came through The Manger door. Mary* shopped for their children and for her husband, Joe*. Joe scoured the room for a gift for Mary.
Mary has been working on her weight and recently hit the 50-pound loss milestone. Joe almost immediately found the ideal gift – a griddle that would help her to cook more healthily.
Proudly bearing his choice, he scurried through gift wrap before his wife could see his selection.
While a family member watched their children in another room, Jack and Sarah Smith* searched through hundreds of choices to find the perfect gifts for them.
When their two children saw the pile of wrapped presents at the end, they jumped up and down in excitement, and the older one made a pronouncement.
“When we wake up each morning, the first thing we’ll do is look at our presents under the tree,” he said.
*Not their actual names