Guest Blogger: Kelly Chambers
For years, when I thought of Toys for Tots, it was of the giant cardboard boxes with the big red letters and trains I saw during the holidays at the bank, bowling alley or dentist office. Or maybe of seeing US Marines marching in a parade with a locomotive float. I knew these toys were collected for children out there who wouldn’t otherwise have gifts to open at Christmas. It never occurred to me to wonder about HOW this actually happens.
Come to find out, the Marines actually collect toys each year that are then sorted and stored to be distributed the following year. It is a massive undertaking, mostly done behind the scenes, and one that really makes a huge difference in the lives of many.
GUMchurch has become one of the avenues for the distribution end of the process. What started as a random conversation between friends has become an amazing opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of people right in our community. God can use us in miraculous ways to meet needs all around us if we’re willing to listen and act. This all started here at GUMchurch when one person learned of a need, connected it with a way to help, and then acted on it. God took over from there!
For families struggling financially, the holiday season can be especially stressful. In 2012, our first year, we served about 30 families in the Jenison area. We asked the principals of the Jenison elementary school buildings to invite 10-15 families each who the school staff felt could use a little extra help during the holidays. Each year since, the event has grown and expanded to include more and more families from Jenison, Hudsonville, and beyond.
2016 will be the 5th year that GUMchurch gets the privilege of being the Toys for Tots distribution site for Eastern Ottawa County. We have expanded this outreach dramatically since 2012 and are anticipating that between 150-200 families will participate this year!
Parents of identified families are invited to enjoy a fun evening right here at GUMchurch- with food and refreshments, the chance to shop for a few gifts for each of their children and complimentary gift wrapping, too! With donations and lots of volunteers, we are able to provide this evening completely free of charge to our guests, easing some of the stress the holidays can bring.
In that first year, I served as a gift wrapper and have been hooked ever since. I thought going into it that I would try to do something nice for others, and maybe I did, but guess what!? This has become one of my most favorite evenings of the year. Sometimes, in all the hustle and busy-ness of the season, it can be easy to lose sight of the joy and wonder that it’s really all about. Our guests on this night see God working in us and through us in the ways we welcome others and share the true hope, peace, joy and love of the Christmas season.
We like to say that we are actively living the example of Jesus by practicing radical hospitality, passionate worship, extravagant generosity, intentional faith development, and risk taking mission and service. It can sometimes become too easy to just say the words without putting them into practice. This event is a true privilege and opportunity to radically welcome our neighbors right into our building, share our passion and God’s love, give generously of ourselves, step out of our comfort zones a little and grow in our own faith- all while having a truly good time!