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Since his days as a firefighter for the city of Lancaster, local businessman Gonzie Mackey has been in the middle of bicycle sprockets, handle bars and kickstands this time of year.
Mackey and the brothers of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church repair and recondition used bicycles to give to children as Christmas gifts.
But this year, it’s been a little different. Mackey said There aren’t enough bicycles to go around.
“Last year, we had bikes lined up as far as you could see,” Mackey said.
That is indicative of how great the need is, Mackey said. He said it’s time for the people of Lancaster to step up.
“You don’t have to look at TV to see the need and you don’t have to ask anybody,” he said. “All you have to do is walk outside your own door. It’s our neighbors who need help. And a lot of them are too ashamed to let us know it.
“This is the time of year where you see what people are really made out of,” Mackey said. “Whenever we see a need, we should do our best to meet it.”
Mackey’s sentiments have struck a chord with me. It’s time for all of us, who can help, to step up.
It hit home with me last Saturday during the annual Chinese auction/Christmas fellowship at Lakewood Christian Church.
The night’s most coveted gift wasn’t a tool set, wind chimes or a stuffed snowman. It was a bag containing bottles of laundry detergent, fabric softener and a dozen AA Duracell batteries.
Boy, it doesn’t get much more basic than that.
That's the kind of needs we should be meeting. But we still need to remember that Christmas is for children.
I’ve been impressed by the generosity shown by Lancaster folks this year.
It was evident with the way they responded to Operation Christmas Child in force.
The Rev. Larry Helm, who coordinated the effort here, said work was wrapped up at the Charlotte processing center about 1:30 p.m. Monday. Helm said the center received 1.9-plus million shoe boxes of love in 2009.
“It was so exciting to see that last box get taped up and packed into a carton,” Helm said. “The total is up from around 1.8 million last year and, nationwide, every processing center is reporting an increase. I love seeing the look on people’s faces when they hear that, because it’s God’s economy we’re operating from, right?”
This year, Helm said the Charlotte center will ship those shoe boxes to children in 34 different nations, including some countries that are normally considered “closed” or “sensitive” by diplomats.
Closer to home, a group of churches united to launch A Child’s Hometown Christmas, which is loosely modeled after Operation Christmas Child.
A Child’s Hometown Christmas will provide Christmas gifts to children in reusable, canvas-type grocery bags. In the midst of 19.2 percent unemployment and so many parents struggling to pay bills and provide the basics, efforts like A Child’s Hometown Christmas may make the difference in whether a child receives anything for Christmas.
The seed for A Child’s Hometown Christmas was planted by a teenager at Pleasant Dale Baptist Church who had volunteered at the Operation Christmas Child center in Charlotte.
“We figured if it works in Cambodia, it’s gotta work here,” said the Rev. Jessie Adams, minister of youth and children at Pleasant Dale. “Every parent wants to give their children something for Christmas, but this year, there are some of them who just can’t.”
That echoes what Mackey is talking about – meeting a need when we see it.
“When you do, what you get from it outweighs what any child can get,” Mackey said. “Nothing compares to the feeling you get when you make a child smile, and that’s especially true at Christmas.”
Adams said so far, the local effort has seen more than 300 bags come in. The bags will be distributed by Christian Services and HOPE.
“We’ll be accepting them through the middle of next week, so there's still time to join in,” Adams said.
Operation Blue and Gold Santa
A Child’s Hometown Christmas isn’t the only way that teenagers have stepped up.
An enterprising group of Lancaster High School student athletes have partnered with the Bruins booster club, HOPE in Lancaster and the Lancaster Children’s Home to lift the spirits of 150 of the county’s neediest families through Operation Blue and Gold Santa.
On Saturday, the students – with the help of the “jolly old elf” – will present these families with a box of food, a box of toiletries and feed them at the closed affair. There will also be 400 stockings and gifts for each family. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too.
“It’s unreal what they have accomplished,” said HOPE’s Elaine Adkins. “They just took it, ran with it and it’s really taken on a life of its own. The neat thing is that it has grown to include other schools and businesses, too. I don’t think this town has is a grinch in it anywhere.”
Right now, the Ward Faulkenberry Memorial Christmas Basket Fund is holding its own. HOPE in Lancaster oversees the annual campaign that distributes $25 food vouchers to some of the counties’ most desperate families.
“So far, we have received a little more than $9,000,” Adkins said. “It went over $15,000 last year and I’m hoping we can at least match that because the need is so much greater than it was in 2008.”
The one drive that is lagging behind this year is Christian Services’ Angel Tree program, which collects gifts for local children.
Angel Tree coordinator Marcine Bufford said there is a real need for teenagers’ gifts and for 7- to 9-year-old children, too. Last year, Christian Services provided Christmas gifts for more than 1,800 children in Lancaster County.
“It’s never looked this bad, but I can understand,” Bufford said. “People don’t have jobs.”
But some do, Mackey said.
“Don’t get me wrong, I know there are a lot of people out there helping and doing all they can. The sad part is I know there are some people out there who can step up. If a group of students can help, then the rest of us can help, too.”
Helping the Angel Tree is easy. Several area businesses including Walmart, First Citizens Bank, Curves and Gus’ Family Restaurant have Christmas trees covered in white paper ornaments. That ornament is a child’s wish list for two Christmas gifts, ranging from toys and games to CDs and make-up. You buy the gifts and take them to the Church of Lancaster, which is the drop-off point.
And when it comes to drop-off points, Mackey and his brothers in Christ are looking for a few bicycles. They can be dropped off at Gonzie & Sons Assembly Shop at 1777 Great Falls Highway. The shop will be a noisy place Saturday with bicycle repairs going full tilt. If you have a bicycle that you would like to donate and it needs to be picked up, call Mackey at (803) 287-3556.
“It doesn’t just have to be a bicycle, either,” Mackey said. “If you have something you aren’t using and have just pushed aside, we’ll come after it.
“And if you want it to be anonymous, we can do that too,” Mackey said, laughing. “We’re willing to pick them up with blindfolds on, if that’s what it takes.”
Want to help?
There are several local causes that need assistance this Christmas. Here are four you may want to consider:
– A Child’s Hometown Christmas
Fill a reusable canvas-type shopping bag (at least 12 inches tall) with items such as small toys, balls, 12-inch-tall stuffed animals, school supplies, hard candy and hygiene items. DO NOT include used or damaged items, play weapons, chocolate (that may melt) or anything in liquid or glass containers. Indicate the age and gender the gift bag is for by tying a label to the bag.
Deliver bags to Pleasant Dale Baptist Church, 133 S. Potter Road, Lancaster by Wednesday. You can set up a delivery time by calling Jane Watts, (803) 804-8074; Ginger Trujillo, (803) 285-5447; or the Rev. Jessie Adams, (803) 320-1753.
INFORMATION: (803) 320-1753 or (803) 283-8377.
– Ward Faulkenberry Memorial Christmas Basket
To donate to the fund, make checks out to 'Christmas Basket Fund' and either drop them off at The Lancaster News, 701 N. White St. or send to “Christmas Basket Fund,” P.O. Box 166 Lancaster, SC 29721. For more information, call HOPE in Lancaster at (803) 286-4673.
Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church bicycle drive
The brotherhood of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church is collecting used bicycles to recondition and give away as Christmas gifts. To donate a bike, take it to Gonzie and Sons Assembly Shop, 1777 Great Falls Highway (near Piggly Wiggly). To schedule a pick up, call Mackey at (803) 287-3556. Monetary donations should be sent to Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church bike fund, P.O. Box 426, Lancaster, SC 29721.
INFORMATION: (803) 287-3556
Christian Services’ Angel Tree
Christian Services’ Angel Tree collects Christmas gifts for needy Lancaster County children during the holiday season. You may get a name tag from a tree at area businesses such as Walmart and buy that child a gift or you may just buy a gift for a child. You’re asked to bring your gifts to the Church of Lancaster at 206 Mercy Drive from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. You may call Marcine Bufford at (803) 286-5112 or (803) 235-0560 for details.
– Greg Summers is features editor of The Lancaster News