GIBSON CITY – After New Beginnings Christian Fellowship’s annual Christmas of Hope last year, Pastor Nick Carlson knew this year’s event needed to be different.
“We are either going to hold it over two days or find a bigger facility,” Carlson said during last year’s event, which drew 57 families with 157 children.
There were still families on the waiting list last year, but the space in the church and the volunteers available to meet the needs of each family limited the number of attendees.
This year, the church plans to spread even more hope, by holding the event at GCMS Middle School on Dec. 12. Now the only thing limiting the outreach is financing and volunteers, said Josh Benningfield, community outreach coordinator.
“The number of families we will be able to help depends on donations,” Benningfield said. “We hope to be able to serve 100 families and 200 to 250 children.”
The daylong event features a Thanksgiving-style meal that families can enjoy together, and a professional photographer takes Christmas and family photos.
Parents are given money and are able to select presents for their children. While parents are shopping, children enjoy a variety of activities, including making presents for their parents to open on Christmas.
At the end of the event, families are sent home with food for their Christmas meal.
It takes a number of volunteers to make the event a success, and Josh Benningfield and his wife, Laura, hope to recruit additional volunteers from the community.
Based on the support she’s seen at the Gibson Area Food Pantry, where the couple volunteers, Laura Benningfield said she is certain they can find the volunteers needed to cook and serve the noon meal, care for the babies and younger children and help with the activities for older children.
“The support from this community for the food pantry is unbelievable,” Laura Benningfield said. “It’s truly amazing to be a part of it.”
The church is also seeking monetary donations. Last year’s event cost $9,000, and most of that was raised from church members.
Anticipating the additional funds needed to grow the event, church members had food stands at both the Sibley Fourth of July and Gibson City Harvest Fest this year.
“We’ve sold lots and lots of fried Oreos,” Laura Benningfield said.
They’ve also had tremendous support from local businesses, including County Market.
“They’ve been a wonderful partner for us,” Josh Benningfield said.
Still the church needs additional financial support to meet the growing demand.
Two years ago, the church held its first Christmas of Hope and served 20 families during a blizzard.
“Everyone showed up,” Laura Benningfield said. “That really showed there is a need.”
Based on what he’s seen at the food pantry, that need is growing, said Josh Benningfield, and it’s more important than ever to offer hope to those families in need.
“We want children to come and make friendships,” Josh Benningfield said. “We want to hear people’s stories and find other ways to help.”
Josh Benningfield added that by networking with families during outreach activities, church members learn of other opportunities to serve.
“We want to be as actively involved in the community as they will let us be,” he said.
To volunteer or find out more about making a donation, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Families who would like to participate may also use that email address.