Holiday seasons inspire community giving with donation drives benefiting area families

The season of giving has arrived in central Delaware.

Scouts in Harrington work their annual food drive to benefit the Lake Forest Church Association Food Pantry in November.

It brings with it the ringing of the Salvation Army kettle bells, sights like flyers requesting donations on community bulletin boards and delicious tastes of gingerbread cookies and free holiday meals. It smells like Christmas trees with tags hanging on every limb detailing items needed and it feels like the warmth of a hand-knitted hat.

To some, the sudden barrage of needs might seem overwhelming. Others, however, know it’s their own need listed on the mitten hanging on a tree.

“Can you imagine 384 children waking up on Christmas morning, in Milford, with nothing?  Neither can we,” Pastor Andy Stevens of Milford Church of God said.

Empty Stocking Project volunteers help prepare hundreds of stockings during last year’s event.

His church, with the help and support of the Milford School District, has led the Empty Stocking Project for several years now as one of many giving opportunities in the nearby area.

“The impact of projects like the Empty Stocking Project for the students and community of Milford is great. Milford School District is committed to ‘Students First.’ Working in collaboration with our community members to help share in this commitment is simply awesome. We are grateful for the genuine interest and support of our students throughout our Milford community,” MSD Director of Student Learning Bridget Amory said.

Pastor Stevens said, “A huge part of our vision, as a church, is to conduct ‘community impact projects’ that will bless our community and meet needs that nobody else is. The empty stocking project is just one of the ways that this vision is coming to life. Our focus must be outside of the ‘four walls of our church.’ Church is a ‘place’ where we celebrate the savior on Sundays… but each day we need to carry the message and love of Jesus Christ to our community in ways that are practical. The Empty Stocking Project allows us to say, ‘We care about you.’”

Their project provides stockings full of gifts; this year it will bring joy to 384 children in elementary schools in the Milford School District.

“MSD has been a great partner for several years. They identify students in need [and] provide a word area for our packing day, as well as coordinate distribution at each school. In previous years, MSD has been able to procure one dress code appropriately sized shirt for each student with grant funding,” Pastor Stevens said, adding that he thinks the district is able to provide shirts again this year.

The program includes a financial commitment in order for the church to successfully provide the stockings and their contents to the students, including age appropriate toys, candy, a toothbrush and other items. This year, that cost came in around $4,000, but it wouldn’t scare them away from their act of service. It also takes around 20 to 30 people each year on packing day to ensure everything is sorted and put in the appropriate stockings.

“At the center of the holiday season is Christmas. This commemorates the moment in human history when God gave the greatest gift of all-time to mankind; Jesus Christ. If we want to be ‘godly,’ then giving to others is a great way to reflect the love of Christ that we’ve received,” Pastor Stevens said.

Donating to this project can be done online at https://pushpay.com/pay/milfordchurdofgod, by texting the keyword MCOG to 77977 or mailing a check to the Milford Church of God at 500 N. Walnut Street, Milford, Delaware, 19963. They can also be reached by phone at 302-422-9138, online at www.milfordcog.com or via email at info@milfordcog.com.

“The Empty Stocking Program makes a huge impact on the students at our school. They are so surprised to receive the gift of a filled stocking. It makes them feel special and cared for. Students look to their teachers and staff members as the additional adults in their life that take care of them. When they receive a stocking at school it helps to show students that school is not just a place that is about test scores and academics,” Mispillion Administrative team Teresa Wallace and Nancy Carter said in a joint statement.

Continuing, they said, “A program like this is needed to connect with students and build a relationship that will last past Elementary School.  These years are the most important to a child’s social and emotional development.  I would like to thank the people that don’t see and hear the appreciation from the children and staff members for this important program.”

Donating from the heart

The Harrington Police Department donated bicycles to Lake Forest South and East Elementary Schools (Harrington and Felton) to be given to children in need.

Some MSD students, though, decided to run a donation drive of their own. The Milford Central Academy Student Council is collecting pet supplies to benefit the local non-profit Grass Roots Rescue.

“Every year, the MCA Student Council hosts a donation drive to benefit the Milford community. The group works throughout the school and community to make a positive impact,” English Teacher Jessica Rash said. “This year, the group picked a local rescue group because of their dedication to animals in need, including special needs pets. The rescue frequently takes in pets with medical needs and helps alleviate overcrowding in shelters.”

The student council wanted to help the rescue’s vision and have worked hard to create flyers to hang around their school and community, Ms. Rash added. Donations of pet supplies or their human loved ones can be dropped off at MCA’s main office Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. through Tuesday, Dec. 17. The public can also make a monetary donation online or www.grrde.org or visit the website to view specific needs.

Superintendent Kevin Dickerson applauded the students and other groups for their generosity.

He said, “We are extremely grateful for the community support of our students and families; especially around the holiday seasons.  We have an extraordinary group of people among Greater Milford businesses, churches, community organizations and community members who really care about our students and families and ensure some of our less fortunate students and families are supported with the means to enjoy the holidays.  In addition, we have various student organizations and staff within our schools who dedicate their time and efforts to provide for our students and families in need, as well as community members in need – we thank our students and staff and are proud of them for their genuine consideration of and support of others.”

At the high school level, the Gay-Straight Alliance is teaming with a newer group, Vault X organized by Jay Johnson and Amber Graham, to collect items for homeless LGBTQ+ youth in Delaware.

“This can be a very hard transition as they don’t always have family and friends to support them,” Mr. Johnson said, adding that he knows of that transition from personal experience. “The LGBTQ community is very personal to me because I am a transgender man. I first came out as a lesbian and was trying to find myself. Through years of struggles of depression and suicide attempts I have finally found myself. Every day is still a battle as I become the man I was meant to be. This journey gets easier with the right support. Holiday giving is very important because many don’t have anyone to help them or give them any gifts. We never want to see anyone go without and feel alone. So even the smallest gift could make a huge difference.”

The groups are looking for donations of hats, socks and hygiene items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, tissues and feminine care items. They can be dropped off at the Milford High School in care of the GSA.

Food for thought

Local business My Sister’s Fault supported Operation Christmas Child this year.

The holiday season also brings to mind family meals and community gatherings filled with traditional trimmings. But not everyone can enjoy such a meal, Franklin P. and Arthur W. Perdue Foundation Executive Director Kim Nechay said.

The foundation works with the Harry K Foundation and the Food Bank of Delaware to help provide Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to families in need that have students in a school which has a Harry K Foundation sponsored food pantry.

The partnership was able to provide 269 Thanksgiving meal boxes this year, which included roasters from Perdue.

“We hope that it really makes a difference at the holiday time when there can be so much sadness and hunger,” Harry K Foundation Executive Director Laura Glascoe said, adding that one in five children in Delaware go to bed hungry, a statistic they hope to improve one holiday at a time.

Supporting community

Other donation drives will take place throughout the community, as well, including Toys for Tots, Operation Christmas Child and others. Toys for Tots drop off locations include, but are not limited to, the Music School of Delaware’s Milford Branch and the Milford Public Library. Many groups, like Anchor Church, also collect new toys to donate to the Milford Police Department who can distribute items to needy families.

For more local events, visit experiencemilford.com.

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