Too early to think about Christmas?
Not at St. Andrews United Methodist Church in Brandon, where the holiday spirit always comes out in summertime. The church gets into the holiday spirit with poinsettias, Santa and angels to welcome local charities in for a huge day of giving.
“Christmas in July is when all our mission partners submit to us several items they are in great need of,” said Beth Wood, the church’s missions coordinator.
“We put together a shopping list similar to Santa’s list and have a designated Sunday in July for Sunday school classes, individuals or families to help contribute to replenish their stocks.”
|Joy Sanderson-Vernon hosts the table for ECHO during St. Andrews UMC's Christmas in July event.|
This has been happening at St. Andrews for the better part of two decades, with church members taking Santa-type wish lists and running out to purchase canned goods, pencils, flash drives, diapers, copy paper and folders.
About six months after the holidays, food pantries tend to be a little bare. And with school about to start, institutions with mostly students from low-income homes are in dire need of supplies.
“We partner with Dover Elementary where 90 percent of the students are on free and reduced lunches,” Wood said. “We also partner with the Florida United Methodist Children’s home (for foster children).”
They help supply copy paper, folders, notebooks, markers, crayons or any item a student needs to get a fresh start on the school year.
“There’s nothing that isn’t on the list, including calculators and flash drives,” she said.
For charities like ECHO—Emergency Care Help Organization—in Brandon, church members collect nonperishable foods, which are also used to stock the church’s food pantry.
Cornerstone Family Ministries in downtown Tampa, which provides daycare all summer for needy families, gets items like diapers and wipes.
“The summer is a very difficult time for fundraising,” Cornerstone Executive Director Cathy Capo Stone said. “Unit members are on vacation or are snow-birds, and the meetings where units would normally rally the troops around a need and bring their donations are less frequent or attendance is weak.
“But babies still need to be changed, and our diaper stock gets down to nothing … monetary donations are always lower in the summer.”
There is a great need for funding.
“We, of course, count on monetary donations to keep our doors open to these children whose parents are unable to pay the high cost of childcare and who have many more expenses during the summer when their school-aged children also need care,” Stone said.
“The United Methodist Women unit at St. Andrews does many things for Cornerstone. It is such a blessing to our children and families.”
That blessing is invaluable to those most in need.
“I was a fundraiser for three of Tampa’s leading non-profits for 20 years prior to coming as executive director at Cornerstone and this is what I know: the summer slump always comes,” Stone said.
“People will always be distracted this time of year—but it is during the down times that having enough bold, consistent and committed friends and givers … to help bridge the gap is really the greatest blessing.”
|Ruth Cormier organized supplies on the Cornerstone Family Ministries table.|
St. Andrews Pastor Tim Machtel said this tradition of giving has a long history in his church.
“The reason it’s important for this church is because we’ve been in this community now for 52 years, and it is our way of partnering with our missions,” he said. “We don’t reinvent the wheel. We partner. And all our partners are gifted and passionate about what they do.
“We try to help them instead of duplicating what they already do,” Machtel said. “For our missions area, it’s been a way of not just supporting through monetary gifts, but whatever needs they have in the middle of the summer.”
That doesn’t mean they can’t have some fun while filling a major need. The courtyard at the church is transformed with decorative tablecloths and centerpieces, while Christmas music plays.
Church members gather there between services to get their lists and head out to the stores. They have created such things as sand snowmen, and the wish lists for their partners are made to look like a Christmas shopping list.
“We’ve also worked with A Kid’s Place (for sibling groups of foster children), which is just around the corner from the church. “They get children’s clothing and other needs,” Machtel said.
“For me, personally, I’ve been to all of the missions with the exception of the Brandon Outreach Clinic,” Machtel said. “One of our members volunteers there, and we’ve had many conversations about what they do.”
The church also hears from Dover Elementary families who are grateful for what the church does, he said.
“I went out to a volunteer appreciation night. We had 25 of our 30 volunteers that went,” Machtel said. “The parents told us how important it is to their kids and that they see the same people on campus regularly.”
—Yvette Hammett is a freelance writer based in Valrico.