2011-12-08 / News

Jamestowners focus on helping needy


Islanders this Christmas are not forgetting the lonely, the less fortunate, or the soldiers overseas. At the three Jamestown churches, Town Hall, local businesses and at the teen center, efforts are underway to keep the holidays happy for people who might otherwise be left out of the celebration.

The Central Baptist Church has organized several ways for congregation members to honor the spirit of the season. Joining with the Salvation Army in Newport, the church members will help provide toys and other presents for 1,000 children. Then on Saturday, the church’s mission project will rake leaves, clean up yards and do minor repairs for three homeowners who need the help. According to the pastor, Rev. Kathryn Palen, that’s going to be a small-scale operation to be followed with a bigger effort, involving more homeowners, in the spring. And, the church also is behind a gift drive for soldiers in Afghanistan.

“I do think people really want to share,” she said, “even though the economy is challenging.” Faith and a sense of community remain powerful motivations, but many parishioners, she said, simply realize that in spite of their own problems, they still are better off than others. They may not be able to help the entire world’s needy, but in doing what they can, in “little pieces,” their congregation and other organizations ultimately do make a difference, she said.

The drive for the soldiers in Afghanistan started due to the holidays but may continue throughout the year, according to Pam Bush.

“The thing that started it,” she said, “is one of the church members has a son serving over there. I felt we hadn’t done anything, and this was something that we should have been doing and not just for the holidays.” Bush said altogether three church members have relatives overseas in the military, and they provided a wish list of items. The soldiers asked for puzzles, crossword puzzle books, candy and personal hygiene products, she said.

“The response was tremendous,” she said. The volunteers in three weeks filled and shipped nine boxes. “We went to the post office and got the biggest flat rate boxes,” she said, “and packed them really tight with things they would want.” The list included beef jerky, snap-top cans of Chef Boyardee, Pringles potato chips, peanut butter crackers, cheese and crackers, soap, and toothbrushes.

Each of the three soldiers received three boxes to share with others in his unit.

“It’s not something this one person gets and hoards,” she said. Bush said the church members have already collected merchandise for four or five more boxes, which they will ship later.

St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church is teaming up with Lucy’s Hearth in Middletown to help people in need this holiday season, Rev. Kevin Lloyd said.

“This is the main thing we do as a parish,” he said. “We have a giving tree set up in the parish hall.” Lucy’s Hearth provides anonymous information about families in need, he said, and the parish fills out tags with a wish list of presents. Most of the beneficiaries are children, he said, and the giving tree tags mention the items they would like to receive. The parishioners deposit the gifts under the tree, and before Christmas, the volunteers deliver the presents to Lucy’s Hearth.

Besides helping Lucy’s Hearth, the parishioners also bake cookies for islanders who may be alone and isolated over the holidays, he said.

“Some of the women of our church put together batches of homemade cookies every year and deliver them to folks who are homebound or in nursing homes, and also to the local group homes,” he said. “They invite members of the parish to help by baking cookies. They usually end up delivering 20 or more batches. The people that receive them are always very appreciative, knowing that they are being remembered and thought of during the Christmas season.”

St. Mark Church also is helping make the holiday happy for people in crisis, and like St. Matthew’s, the Roman Catholic congregation is also going beyond its own parishioners, and giving to anyone in need.

The giving tree at St. Mark is filling up with gift certificates, according to Kathy Brownell, chairwoman of the parish outreach committee. She relies on the school and community nurses, neighbors and parishioners to help compile a confidential list of people who might benefit from donations. If the people on the list agree, they receive a gift card to stores such as Benny’s or Stop & Shop.

“In years past, we used to have people bring in gifts,” she said, but after dealing so many times with articles of clothing that didn’t fit, the parish decided to switch to gift cards.

“Then the parents could go out and give things the children actually wanted,” she said.

In addition to the giving tree, the parishioners also make about 60 fruit baskets for people who may be lonely over Christmas, she said. “They’re not necessarily in need, but they may be shut-ins.” The fruit baskets also go to everyone who receives Meals on Wheels – typically 10 to 13 people. And the parish also tries to remember people in nursing homes and those who have lost loved ones during the year.

“The best thing is, we have the small children of the parish make cards,” she said, “and people seem to enjoy the drawings and messages as much as the fruit.” The church committee also likes to read the cards, she said. One particular message stood out, she said. “Merry Christmas,” the youngster wrote to one recent widower. “I hope you get a good new wife.”

Once again, the town employees and The Secret Garden are teaming up for the annual mitten drive to benefit the Women’s Resource Center of Newport and Bristol Counties.

Lisa Vieira of The Secret Garden said the collection benefits men, women and children.

“There’s a big basket by the cash register,” she said, and people have been delivering handmade hats and brand new store-bought mittens, hats and scarves.

Town Clerk Cheryl Fernstrom said donations can also be dropped in a box in her office, and the deadline, the week before Christmas, is coming up. Heather Lopes, probate clerk, organizes the mitten drive, she said.

“It’s a great thing to have,” Fernstrom said. “It’s a mitten drive,” she said, but people have left coats for the children and other apparel. The probate judge has donated stuffed animal toys for the children. “People are being very generous,” she said.

Finally, eight youngsters at the teen center are raising money and buying presents for the patients at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence. According to Debbie Tungett, teen coordinator at the rec center, this is the second year the group, Adolescents Making Programs for Teens, has donated toys to the hospital, and this year’s goal is to raise $500 for the cause. The teens are well on the way to the goal, she said, because they raised more than $100 last weekend. They have a fundraiser basketball tournament set for Saturday, Dec. 17, for fifth-grade through adult players. Entry costs $20 for a team of three or $8 for individuals who want to be matched up with a threesome. Halftime features a pie-eating contest.

Tungett said the teens came up with all the ideas. The plan is to buy craft kits and gift cards for the Hasbro patients and deliver them to the hospital on Dec. 22.

The teens also have placed change collection containers at McQuade’s, East Ferry Deli and Baker’s Pharmacy to benefit the toy drive.

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