Sanlando UMC in Longwood is just a short drive to the Enterprise campus of the Florida Children’s Home, and the church has long supported this Florida Conference institution. This year, for the first time, Sandlando’s members responded to the unusual idea of Christmas in July and came up with 417 items on the home’s wish list—all good kid’s stuff.
Senior Pastor Jonathan Tarman told the story of how a unique worship series called Canvas of Grace, which began shortly after Easter, inspired the church to focus on the Christmas story in the middle of summer. The church’s 25 stained glass windows told Bible stories from left to right, landing the annunciation, birth and baptism of Jesus in July.
It seemed natural to go further with the Christmas theme, so they put up a palm “Christmas” tree in the Narthex and decorated it with toucan and coconut ornaments.
“We have made the Children’s Home a priority, and we try to go and do whatever no one else is doing,” Tarman said.
Some of the church’s 820 members grew up at the Children’s Home, and the church also gives regular financial support. The idea of a summertime angel tree with items from a wish list from the Children’s home became a reality, and church members took ornaments with a gift idea.
They brought the gifts to church during the three services held each of the last three Sundays in July.
The Home’s residents are children ages 5-17, and there’s a long list of things they would like to have, just like other kids their ages.
“These kids are all in some level of the foster care system, and they’re with other kids in the public school systems,” Tarman said. “They want nice things, too, like name brand sneakers and sports jerseys from their favorite teams, clock radios and games.”
Some of the items on the list included: Xboxes and games, bike helmets, science kits, art supplies, jewelry boxes, headphones, Axe bath and body products and Legos. The items were placed in a store in each house where the children live on campus. They provide incentives for kids to accumulate “points” for good behaviors as noted by their caregivers.
For example, doing chores, doing well in school and exhibiting positive attitudes can add up to a chance to shop at the store.
“The things in the stores are really nice things that all kids want,” Tarman said.
Church members were generous and provided all the items on the wish list.
Tarman and the church’s two lay leaders, Jack Gutherman and Sandy Denslow, delivered the gifts.
“Our hope is to try to be available to the home for needs that are not being met,” Tarman said.
With that in mind, the church sent pumpkins from its patch to the home so kids could decorate their living space and had plans to bring the kids to the church’s massive Fall Festival in late October.
“We see this as a way of strengthening our United Methodist connection,” Tarman said.
—Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Decatur, Ga.