Tis the season to be, well, greedy. Christmas is a time of family, food and a break from the stresses of life, but the holiday emphasis is often on the gifts one will soon receive. While this is not a bad thing, Christmas can also be used to bless those in need both materially and spiritually.
Jim Cato, associate vice president of Christian ministries, said he and his family have used the holidays to give gifts to families in need and send gift-filled shoeboxes to children around the world through Operation Christmas Child.
“Being prompted by the Spirit that someone has a need and then shutting up long enough to hear that prompting, it’s a challenge,” he said. “But I think that’s a neat way to approach this time of year.”
There are several ways to help others during Christmastime, Cato said, but he recommends getting involved with a local church and its charitable efforts.
“The things that I would recommend to students are being sensitive to the Spirit on who he might prompt you to give to,” he said. “Then find out what your local church is doing and start there.”
Whether by collecting and distributing food to families for a special holiday meal or joining in a group shoebox packing event, he said, church ministries provide a great way to help people during the holidays.
“Every church is different, every community is different,” he said, “but I would suggest finding out what your local church is doing and working through – that is a really great place to start.”
Cato said there are many stories in Scripture about giving to the poor and physically meeting people’s needs. But to take care of someone’s physical needs and neglect their spiritual needs just prolongs spiritual death, he said, which is much worse than physical death.
“So, in meeting people’s physical needs, we want to make sure that we clearly communicate, verbally, the gospel, so that their spiritual needs can also be met,” he said. “What’s so cool about Christmas is that people seem to be willing to hear that story. And so it’s a great time of year to become involved in meeting people’s needs.”
Local ministries have the benefit of allowing participants to know where the gifts are going and who will receive them, Cato said. He said whatever way people give during the holidays, it is important for them to look for other opportunities to give.
“I think that’s one really good thing, to just keep your heart open to anybody that God may lay on your heart to try to help at this time of the year,” he said. “To have an opportunity to share with someone in need, but also just give them the real reason for why we celebrate Christmas.”
Organizations involved with holiday giving
World Vision works in over 100 countries through various ministries for children, widows, orphans, disaster relief, victims of injustice and those in poverty. It accepts donations for all of its ministries but also has a unique assortment of gifts that are sent around the world. Ranging from $10 to $39,000, gift options include buying a goat or chickens, contributing to install a well of clean water for a village, purchasing medicine for sick children, and more. For those looking to donate long-term, World Vision also has a child sponsorship program.
Samaritan’s Purse has been working for over 40 years to help and care for the needy across the world. Most well known, perhaps, for its Operation Christmas Child project, Samaritan’s Purse brings joy and relief to men, women and children in many countries. Gifts include sending food to impoverished countries, supporting vulnerable women, financially supporting the distribution of the OCC shoeboxes, and more. Gift costs range from $7 to $35,000, or whatever you want to give.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation strives to fulfill the wish of terminally ill children. According to its mission statement, “We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.” The Foundation accepts “in-kind” items, resources that are needed to grant a child’s wish in your community, as well as monetary and airline mile donations.
Angel Tree is a program of the Prison Fellowship ministry and meets the needs of the children and families of inmates. Whether working with a church group to purchase and deliver gifts to the children on behalf of their imprisoned parents or donating money to fund the ministry, you can make a difference in the lives of these children.
Toys for Tots
Toys for Tots is a program of the U.S. Marine Corps that provides toys for children from less-fortunate families to improve their futures. Participants purchase new and unwrapped toys and deliver them to collection sites at local businesses from October to late December. Volunteers are also needed to sort through the collected toys.
Emily Finlay is a senior journalism major and campus news editor for Cedars. She loves writing, reading, making obscure references in normal conversation and every type of geekery.