Nadine Turner said she felt nothing but warmth at Christmas Kindness, an outreach program of Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Buckhead.
Turner and her three children live in a shelter provided by City of Refuge, a west Atlanta nonprofit that partners with individuals and families in crisis to clear a path out of poverty and find success. She was there to get gifts for herself and her three kids: Zaryeus, 10, Reco, 9, and Kaleah, 6.
“We come out and enjoy the gifts that church has given to families in need and a bunch of love,” said Turner, who was participating in Christmas Kindness for the first time. “I’ve seen a bunch of love today. I felt welcomed.”
Turner’s family is one of about 750 the church gave gifts to this year. The presents include toys, coats and small appliances and are even gift-wrapped. Christmas Kindness, in its 14th year, took place Dec. 7 through 11 and partnered with about 30 local nonprofits.
“We host this event because we are trying to give a hand up to the working poor and the homeless who are experiencing a rough patch in their lives,” said Beth Spencer, the church’s director of outreach and volunteer services and leader of Christmas Kindness. “We also do this because as Christians, we believe Jesus’ birth was the greatest gift to us.
“The wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesus, so we want to be able to help provide gifts for families that are struggling. We do not want them to miss a rent payment or a utility bill payment by purchasing gifts for their children and their families. We want them to be able to continue to have as normal a life as possible without the Christmas season interrupting it with the gift buying.
Spencer said it spends about $150,000 a year to purchase the items.
“But it’s probably a half a million (dollars) worth of merchandise,” she said. “… Because we shop all year long, we get the good values and good deals and we’re able to provide (presents) at such a lower cost.”
The church has a fundraising campaign to raise the $150,000 needed to pay for all the gifts.
“Everything is funded through donations. We’ve just started the (2019) campaign a couple of weeks ago, so we’re probably halfway there,” she said in a Dec. 9 interview.
About 90 volunteers set up Christmas Kindness the week before it starts, 500 volunteer during the event and a committee of 18 volunteer to purchase items year round.
“(This year) for the first time, the Razor scooter company donated 200 Razor scooters to us, which is about a $10,000 value. We were thrilled about that,” she said.
Renee Howze is residential housing director for Action Ministries, a DeKalb County-based nonprofit that “mobilizes communities to address the challenges of poverty by focusing on hunger relief, housing and education,” according to its website. She said Christmas Kindness is something its residents look forward to each year.
“Literally these are clients who may come from literally living under a bridge the night before they move in,” Howze said. “The items they receive here are not only essential for them as far as warmth with the coat, but it also allows and affords them, from their household items, things they can use to make their home something they’re excited (about) and proud of.
“So just the way they feel, the testimonies the clients have shared, have come from the past few years, they make the other residents super excited without even being here. The festive environment, the spirit of just caring for others is pretty much the sentiment we’ve experienced every single year. So it means a lot to our agency.”
Spencer said Christmas Kindness can be an awe-inspiring experience.
“There’s nothing quite as humbling as seeing a person receive their very first coat that is their own brand-new coat for the first time in their lives and they’re 50 years old,” she said.
Howze said her residents definitely feel loved by Christmas Kindness.
“Honestly, just to know that our community is available and there to support our agency is a really big thing for them because some of them have no family support whether they’ve broken relationships or whatever the scenario may be,” she said. “This is something that makes them shine, gives them some joy and lets them know they’re still people out there that care.”