COVINGTON — Youth minister Kyle McDougal and her young charges are busy collecting as many toys as possible – and a lot of toothbrushes, combs, shampoos, scarves, washcloths, you name it – for every child who walks into their church for an upcoming Christmas Dinner.
It’s a huge project, but Madison Avenue Christian Church members are joyfully preparing to feed and provide the gifts on Dec. 19 to hundreds of people who are living in poverty.
Like the little girl who last year so cautiously carried Santa’s present to her table at the annual Christmas Dinner, then so carefully, so deliberately, opened the package.
“I watched her carry it back to her table like it was something delicate,” said McDougal. “Once she could see what it was, her face lit up with a giant smile and she started screaming and jumping up and down. I don’t even remember what the gift was – maybe a doll or a bracelet-making kit – but it sure made her happy.”
Madison Avenue Christian Church reaches out that way to those in poverty, including the homeless, throughout the year.
Pastor Chinnamuthu Simon, his church members and dozens of volunteers – some as young as 5 – have created a safe, comfortable place where a family can get a meal, and a holiday gift or two, without any questions asked.
The church is preparing for its Christmas Dinner and Santa’s Workshop, an event that provides local families and individuals with a celebration they might not otherwise experience during the holiday season.
“Last year we fed 300 people,” Simon said.
“Most of them are so anxious,” he said. “Christmas is coming, they have nothing for their children.”
McDougal, 27, and her youth group, kids ages 5-12, are determined to fill 100 drawstring bags donated by State Farm Insurance with personal-care items. The bags, along with Santa’s gifts, will be distributed to the kids at the holiday dinner.
Thanks to outreach efforts, Beechwood Elementary School kids are helping with the toy collection for children 6 to 16, and Kathy Venneman Donelan from Aunt Kathy’s Child Care & Preschool in Highland Heights is collecting gifts for babies to 5-year-olds for Santa’s Workshop.
Last year, the church provided all kids who attended the Christmas Dinner with presents and then allowed adults to choose leftover toys to bring to grandchildren or other relatives.
Simon said an impoverished man confided in him that he wasn’t going to visit his grandchildren for Christmas because he had no gifts to bring to them.
Madison Avenue Christian Church wouldn’t let that happen.
After the children received toys from Santa at the dinner, adults were invited to make choices for children in their families who didn’t attend.
“He took a couple of toys,” Simon recalled.
“He said, ‘I’m going to see my grandchildren.’ ”