Church giving trees help mobilize the generous

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The ornaments became more sparse, but the base of the tree fuller, as gifts were brought to the Advent Tree at Mercy Road Church Northeast in Fortville. The church was among those donating items for the annual Renewal Christmas Store.

Photo provided

They’re more than decoration.

The colorful ornaments on a Christmas tree in the main lobby of Bradley United Methodist Church represented wishes of children in need. Parishioners could select from the tags — shaped like boots, mittens, bells and ornaments — buy the gift named, and bring it back to church. Families of the Bradley Preschool students also got in on the giving.

The donated gifts, about 150 of them, included clothing/personal items, shoes and toys. Donors brought them in to the church by Dec. 10, when the Rev. Steve Peek offered a blessing on the gifts and those who would receive them — 36 individuals in seven families representing Healthy Families and Greenfield-Central schools. Case managers or social workers delivered many of the gifts, but if requested, church volunteers delivered the gifts to the family’s home. Each family also received a gift card for groceries and/or hygiene products.

Bradley’s tree is one of a number of giving trees local churches set up as a visual reminder of opportunities to give to others this Christmas season.

A giving tree at New Palestine United Methodist Church was adorned with tags listing items to gather for Fletcher Place Community Center. A giving tree at Park Chapel Christian Church helped people know what to give for the Day of Love and Caring, which God’s Open Arms offers each Christmas Eve. In Fortville, a “Give Back Tree” at Gateway Community Church offered a way to help families in the community who would otherwise go without.

Also in Fortville, an “Advent Tree” at Mercy Road Church Northeast bore tags with gift ideas to stock a Dec. 16 Christmas store. Renewal Neighborhood Ministries serves families in the 42nd Street and Post Road area of Indianapolis. The annual Renewal Christmas Store allows invited parents to pay $5 per child to shop at the one-day store, with a cap of $25 per family. At Mercy Road, people brought back the tag with the gift and placed it under the tree.

HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW

Giving trees and their tags help organizers of a mission effort make sure every gift has been matched with someone willing to provide it — and sometimes, that means the tree is quickly bare.

“We have tags for a tree, but they all got taken before the tree was even up,” the Rev. Mark Havel, lead pastor of Cross of Grace Lutheran Church in New Palestine, wrote of the church’s gifts for foster families in Hancock County.

A similar thing happened at Calvary Baptist Church in Greenfield, which also offered gifts for local foster families.

“There were 35 names on the tree and they are all gone,” member Carla Carter wrote in late November. “Now we are collecting gift cards for possible late arrivals between now and Christmas. We have already taken the names off the trees and donations are lined up in the hallway upstairs.”

For as long as a church giving tree does have ornaments, they are more than mere adornment. At one house of worship, each represents a gift to be given. At another, such as as Outlook Christian Church and its Global Giving Tree, an ornament might bear an idea on how to pray for mission partners.

“Each ornament shares both a current request for prayer as well as how someone can give financial supports and what differing sizes of gift can make possible,” senior minister Rob McCord wrote in an email. “These are from our the missionaries we support all over the world.”

At still other churches, the gifts may become the decorations. At Carrollton United Methodist Church, people of the congrgation bought hats, mittens and gloves and placed them on the tree, shared the Rev. Marianne Nichols, lead pastor.

ALSO GIVING

While some churches put up giving trees, other congregations gave in different ways. Here are some examples:

-In addition to its backing for the Renewal Christmas Store mentioned above, Mercy Road Church Northeast is raising $50,000 to renovate and build safe, sustainable restrooms for the Institute of Women for Excellence School in Rwanda.

-Brookville Road Community Church in New Palestine helped some local families with Christmas gifts. It was also one of several area churches who sent gift-filled shoeboxes overseas through Samaritan Purse’s Operation Christmas Child, sending 450.

-Community Christian Church donated to the LiveLike B Foundation Toy Box and to Hope House, plus providing gifts for five community families.

-Fortville Christian Church bought gift cards for families in need in the Mt. Vernon school district. The gift cards were distributed before Thanksgiving, so families could stretch their dollars with Black Friday sales as they shopped for their families.

-Greenfield Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has collected pairs/packages of new socks for Changing Footprints during December.

-Greenfield Faith Church sponsored three families, including six children, through Hancock County Christmas Connection. People of the church shopped for items on each family’s wish list. (HCCC also connected Bradley United Methodist Church with the families it sponsored.)

-Mohawk United Methodist Church gathered about 40 sets of hats and mittens for 4- and 5-year-old Head Start students.

Also, Mohawk again carried out a friendly “competition” between Hancock County Food Pantry and Fortville Area Resource Mission (FARM). Two jars were set out, and people could “vote” for one pantry or the other (or both) by depositing folding money in the appropriate jar. Though a winner is announced, it’s hard to say there’s a loser, as each pantry receives the money in its jar.

-New Palestine Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) donated restaurant gift cards to Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen.

-In addition to its giving tree, New Palestine United Methodist Church partnered with schools in New Palestine to provide gifts for those who had requested assistance, as well as a teacher at an Irvington-area elementary school.

‘SERVE UP HOPE’

-Realife Church observed HOPE Week from Dec. 3-9. Luke Cornwell wrote the annual event is “a special opportunity to serve up HOPE throughout our community in tangible ways this Christmas season.

“From ringing the Salvation Army bell, to delivering lunches to the homeless, to decorating cookies for residents in assisted living facilities, there are over 300 people spreading the love of Jesus by serving people in our community.”

-Shiloh Christian Church gave $1,000 each to Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen and to the Shop with a Deputy program.

-Trinity Park Church provided and delivered gifts and gift cards through Angel Tree. Also, in lieu of buying memorial poinsettias for the sanctuary, members could make a donation to Hope House in memory of a loved one, with the names of those remembered to be listed on the PowerPoint at Sunday’s services.

The women’s ministry team at Trinity Park collected hand sanitizer and sweatpants to donate to Harris Elementary, which is across the street from the church.

-People of Zion Lutheran Church in New Palestine could choose from sponsoring families, seniors in a local facility, or holiday meals for people in need.