With most of her money going to rent and other living expenses, finances are tight for Elizabeth Donnell and her family.
Donnell, 46, of Charlotte, is a longtime forklift operator sidelined by a medical disability. Buying new clothes and other Christmas presents for her son, daughter and grandson is a challenge.
That’s why Donnell took the children to the seventh-annual “Spirit of Christmas” event at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church on Beatties Ford Road in Charlotte Saturday. Nearly 700 homeless and other CMS students in need, and their parents, were treated to a celebration where the children received new shoes and coats, and everyone got a meal.
“This is a blessing,” Donnell said as daughter, Zauna Dunlap, 13, son, Zondre Dunlap, 9, and grandson, Jamarcus Parrish, 3, tried on new shoes. “Much love here. You can feel the vibe in the room.”
The non-profit Genesis Charitable Fund for Catastrophic Relief provided the coats, shoes and food. The church created the fund under the leadership of Senior Minister Clifford Jones Sr. The free lunch and new coats and shoes were donated by corporate sponsors, non-profits and individuals.
In the next couple of days, Genesis Fund also will provide new coats and shoes to homeless families in Lumberton who were impacted by Hurricane Matthew.
Saturday’s program involved 120 volunteers, most of them from the church, John Ham, the event’s marketing volunteer, said on a tour of the festivities.
“It’s so good that we can do this,” said volunteer Rachel Stanley, 74, who oversees the coat rooms each year with fellow church member Linda Thomas. “It’s a joy.”
Claude Mack, 63, a deacon and member of the church’s drama ministry, waved and said, “Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas” to passersby as Santa Claus. Children sat on his lap as their parents took photos. “Just spreading some good cheer,” he said.
In another room, chef and church member Dennis Gray and wife, Angela, stood at a table that displayed his oversized gingerbread house. He made the roof with gum drops and Shredded Wheat cereal, the front of the house with old-fashioned candies and a shutter with a Hershey bar. Peppermint sticks formed the columns of the house, while the back of the house was made with white icing.
Gray also made smaller gingerbread houses, one of which was already missing its roof by 11 a.m. because kids had eaten the Smarties that formed it, as they were welcome to do, Angela Gray said
Many of the kids Saturday were among the 4,770 homeless children who live in Mecklenburg County, according to A Child’s Place, a local non-profit that assists homeless children and their families.
“We are truly in need of the help from organizations such as Genesis during this time when so many need assistance,” Erin Edwards of A Child’s Place said.
Like Donnell and her children, however, not all of the families at the event were homeless.
Ebony Evans brought daughter, Sequoia, 12, to the event. She also brought items back home to daughter, Trinity, 15, who was sick in bed. Most of her money likewise goes to paying rents and other living expenses, Evans said.
She said she hopes her daughters learn through the event “the gift of giving and receiving, the importance of helping somebody else out when another can’t.”