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Church made sure holidays in Holiday were bright

Church made sure holidays in Holiday were bright

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church made sure holidays in Holiday were bright

Jan. 11, 2008  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0782}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

HOLIDAY — A great deal can happen in a year — just ask Claudia Druschel.

The single mother of two children found herself struggling throughout the year just to pay monthly bills and cover her escalating gas costs, so the idea of providing Christmas gifts and toys for her children last year was daunting.

Claudia Druschel, a single mother of two, selects toys for her children at Community United Methodist Church. Druschel was grateful the church was able to help her family, though she admits it was hard to seek assistance. She said rising gas costs and a busy schedule of leaving home early and returning late because of school and work schedules has left her emotionally and financially drained. Photo by J.A. Buchholz. Photo #08-0724.

Druschel did the only thing she knew would put Christmas gifts under the tree and a special meal on the table for her 7- and 1-year-old children. On the advice of a friend she turned to the Salvation Army, which then referred her to Community United Methodist Church in Holiday. The church was partnering with Metropolitan Ministries to provide toys and Christmas dinner to hundreds of families in the area.

Druschel, who works full time, arrived at the church Dec. 22 grateful for the helping hand —when she says she needed it most.

“I wasn’t going to be able to do anything,” she said as she waited in the sanctuary after checking in with program organizers. “It’s hard enough with spending $60 to $80 a week on gas, plus everything else to keep the house going.

“It’s been a tough year. It’s normally tough, but not this tough.”

Alive in ministry again

Community United Methodist Church is located along the U.S. 19 corridor in west Pasco County. Although the area was once a retirement haven, many families are characterized as “working poor,” commuting to work in nearby Pinellas County, but living in Pasco because of its relatively cheaper housing, the Rev. Daniel Campbell says.

Because of the emotional and financial stress people in the area are feeling, Campbell said he knew his church would be able to provide some relief throughout the year and especially during the holidays. The church began its outreach to the community six months ago when it helped coordinate a summer camp for school-aged children.

“Fresh Start” was a one-week day camp held at the church for children experiencing homelessness or financial hardship. It served upcoming kindergarteners through rising fifth-graders and ran from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the last week of July. Each day the camp served about 90 children, led by more than 120 volunteers from 40 different churches and agencies. The entire effort, from planning to implementation, was accomplished through a community of churches, organizations and businesses determined to help impoverished children.

Campbell said the summer camp was so successful he knew the congregation could do even more with the right resources.

Those resources became available during the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event. An encounter between Campbell and an executive with Metropolitan Ministries in a hall at the Lakeland Center resulted in a partnership that provided Christmas dinners and gifts to hundreds of families in need.

A list indicating what each family could receive in the toy section of the holiday store at Community United Methodist Church in Holiday was posted to guide guests and volunteers. Photo by J.A. Buchholz. Photo #08-0725.

Metropolitan Ministries, a faith-based and community-supported nonprofit in Tampa, is funded through donations from individuals, businesses, congregations, schools, foundations and civic groups. It has been helping homeless and low-income families since 1972 when 13 downtown churches of different denominations formed the ministry. Each church had been trying to meet local needs, but they found they were duplicating efforts and overwhelmed by growing needs. They decided to consolidate efforts and formed the ministry.

Staff and leaders at Metropolitan Ministries were interested in an opportunity to help families outside the Tampa area and said the partnership with the church was ideal, especially because so many families in the greater metropolitan area needing help have no way to get to Tampa. Two other area United Methodist churches and a Lutheran church also participated in the joint effort.

Campbell said the ultimate goal was for the church to reach outside its walls and impact the community in a positive way.

“Two and a half years ago when I came here, it was an elderly congregation,” Campbell said. “This once was a retirement community, but that has changed. Many of the people who live here are the working poor. There are 20,000 school-age children within six miles of this church, and we had three of them. We were hurting, just serving ourselves. I asked the church if we closed our doors today, who would care?”

Once church members began the summer program they became excited and energized about what they could do, Campbell said, such as the idea of becoming a satellite location for Metropolitan Ministries.

Restoring hope, dignity during hard times

Metropolitan Ministries volunteer Jen Holtvluwer checked in families throughout the day last December. She said a number of people shared the hardships they were experiencing and what led them to the church that day, which was the last day of assisting families who were pre-qualified for services. Volunteers were expecting 160 families to participate by the end of the day.

Holtvluwer said some families were trying to cope with illnesses. Others, like Renee Wiggins, had recently lost their jobs.

Wiggins had been making a salary of more than $100,000 a year. The mother of two children, 10 and 12, said she was lost about where to turn for assistance during Christmas. Wiggins was at the Salvation Army trying to get help paying an electric bill when Salvation Army staffers referred her to the church.

Wiggins said it was a blow for her to be on the receiving end of donations when she has been the one donating to charities in the past.

“It means a great deal for me to be able to come here,” she said with tears in her eyes. “My relationship with my husband is on the rocks because of the financial strain, and it’s just so hard to know we went from having it all, a five-bedroom house with a fireplace, to living in a two-room trailer. I wouldn’t be able to give my family a Christmas, and now I can. This means everything to me.”

Empty boxes wait to be filled with food items selected by guests visiting the holiday store at Community United Methodist Church in Holiday as part of a combined outreach effort between the church and Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa. Photo by J.A. Buchholz. Photo #08-0726.

Volunteering at the church provided Linda Arnold the opportunity to give back to the community. A member of nearby Hope United Methodist Church, Arnold said helping families select toys and food restored some of the dignity they had lost when their circumstances changed.

“We don’t just hand them what we want them to have,” said Arnold, who volunteered at the church during its summer program. “We have a list of what they can have, and they get to select their own items. We have the toys categorized according to age, and they pick out what they think their child will like. It’s not just us giving them what we want them to have.”

Cynthia McKeel, a resident of New Port Richey and mother of three — ages 13, 14 and 16 — is employed, but said having her hours cut recently caused her family to reach its breaking point.

“It’s been a very hard year,” she said.

Aaron Cosma, an employee of Team Staff who lives in St. Petersburg, said he particularly remembers a hard year when he was boy. He said someone helped his family when they needed it most and volunteering at the church was his way of giving back.

Campbell said the very idea that the church, once on the verge of dying, is now giving back to the community is a joyous occasion. He said once the church connected with the community, “a certain vibrancy” returned to the congregation.

“We partnered with 40 businesses,” Campbell said. “It forced us to go out into the community. The church was so excited at the end of the summer camp, and I promised them it wouldn’t be a flash in the pan. We’re out in the community, reaching people for God, and that’s where we’re going to stay.”


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.