ANGELS AMONG US: Ministry makes sure families’ Christmas is merry and bright

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GREENFIELD — Andy and Michelle Williams’ daughters were so excited two nights before Christmas, the Fortville girls couldn’t fall asleep until around 3 a.m.

But it wasn’t opening their own presents they were looking forward to.

The sisters, their parents, and a few other relatives all gathered at the Hancock County Fairgrounds around 8 a.m. Dec. 24 to volunteer at A Day of Love and Caring — an annual event hosted by God’s Open Arms Ministry that helps families in need provide a great Christmas for their children.

When the doors opened at 8:30 a.m., dozens of volunteers transformed the fairgrounds’ sheep barn into a virtual North Pole, where families could select from hundreds of toys to take home to their kids, in addition to a full Christmas dinner.

Skylar Williams, 15, and her cousin, Harper Perkins of McCordsville, were among the first two to lead a visitor through the sheep barn, helping her select bags full of clothing, electronics and toys for the four children in her care — two grandchildren and two distant cousins, ages 8 through 17.

Barbara Parker said that without the generosity of God’s Open Arms, her grandkids couldn’t have much of a Christmas at all.

“I think it’s fantastic that they do this,” she said on Christmas Eve, as she loaded the bags of unwrapped toys into her van, including a handful of dolls and makeup for the girls, and a drone for the 17-year-old boy on her list.

Each of the recipients who came to the fairground that day was paired with a volunteer who escorted them through the dozens of tables loaded with gifts, including hundreds of toys, dolls, action figures, puzzles and board games.

Each child was limited to a certain combination of small, medium, large and prime gifts, in addition to a bag of clothes and a pair of shoes and boots pre-sorted by size.

Local nonprofits Changing Footprints provided the footwear, while Journey Bags of Hancock County provided hundreds of stacks of clothes, including new underwear and socks.

Winter coats were also up for grabs.

Parker selected a white fleece coat and pink hooded jacket for two of the girls in her care, and made quick work of selecting toys and other gifts, occasionally asking the teenage girls helping her what they thought each child might like.

Once her holiday shopping was complete, the girls helped Parker tote the bags to her van, before she headed into the fairgrounds’ exhibit hall to pick up to-go boxes of turkey dinners to be heated up for Christmas dinner.

This was the first year the Day of Love and Caring event filled up two entire buildings at the fairgrounds. Last year it was held as a drive-through event due to COVID, and for the seven years prior to that it was held only in the fairgrounds’ exhibit hall. The first giveaway in 2011 was hosted in the parking lot of a Greenfield church.

The God’s Open Arms ministry was founded by Greenfield couple Dean and Peggy Couch, who founded the nonprofit in memory of their late son, Brandon, who died in 2009.

“Our (minstry’s) board of directors is very much like a family, and this (event) is truly a family affair,” Peggy Couch said as dozens of volunteers milled about preparing for the day.

Between 200 and 250 volunteers were part of the team helping out on Christmas Eve, she said, in addition to others who collect and sort toys and other gifts throughout the year.

“We have one family who has made a tradition of going out once a month and shopping for a toy on clearance. They’ve made it a family project, Couch said.

Amanda Writt and her 15-year-old son, Aiden McGee, of New Palestine, have been helping out at the Christmas Eve event for the past eight years.

“My son has grown up doing this, and he loves it. This is my favorite part of Christmas,” she said.

Andy Williams started bringing his family to volunteer on Christmas Eve about eight years ago, when his daughters — Skylar, 15, Karsynn, 13 and Presleigh, 11 — were little girls.

He knew the Couches from their auto repair shop, Family Auto Repair in Greenfield — where the couple stores most of their ministry’s donations through the year — and asked what he and his family could do to help.

“It became a tradition for us. The girls look forward to this each year,” he said as his in-laws, Tom and Ruth Perkins, were helping in the adjacent building, preparing Christmas meals.

Williams even recruited some of his players from the Mt. Vernon eighth-grade boys basketball team he’s coached over the years. On Friday, one of his former players walked in with his own family, who the former player has brought along to help year after year.

Twenty-six-year-old Briley Loggan, of Rush County, has also been helping out for years, recruited by her aunt,Trisha Seybold, a longtime volunteer.

Talking of the gratitude she sees in the recipients each year moves Loggan to tears.

“One year I helped a grandma who had taken in her four grandkids,” she recalled. “She didn’t have the means to take them in, but she did. It felt great knowing we were helping her give them a great Christmas and a hot meal that day.”

She led multiple recipients through the long rows of tables piled high with gifts — including everything from teething rings and Fisher-Price toys for the little ones, to Bluetooth speakers, headphones and makeup sets for teens.

Three big bins overflowing with teddy bears and plush toys sat alongside two more bins stuffed with sports equipment. Another table was filled with stockings pre-stuffed with candy and other treats.

Several dozen bags of toilet paper and other household essentials lined one long wall.

“It’s so amazing that people come together to do all this for us,” said Parker, as she selected a glittery pair of high-top sneakers for her granddaughter, and placed them into a large white plastic bag stuffed with gifts.

She couldn’t wait to get home and wrap them all up, and whisper a quiet word of thanks as she watched her family joyfully unwrap them on Christmas Day.

How you can help

More than 300 families were helped and 600 meals were served at the annual Day of Love and Caring event, held at the Hancock County Fairgrounds on Christmas Eve.

Several hundred toys as well as coats, clothes, shoes and household essentials were also given away to grateful families in need of a helping hand.

The annual holiday giveaway is coordianted by God’s Open Arms Ministry, which was founded 10 years ago by Greenfield couple Dean and Peggy Couch, in memory of their son, Brandon.

Each year hundreds of families congregate to the fairgrounds for the giveaway of clothes and toys, which are typically wrapped up by each family to present to their children on Christmas Day.

For more information on how to support God’s Open Arms, visit godsopenarms.org or call 317-339-8015.

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