For Christians, living one’s faith should be a daily priority. During the holidays, however, an even brighter spotlight shines on that mission. Committing to helping the less fortunate is a key part of the Christmas season. And there is certainly no shortage of hands reaching out for help.
Despite the beautiful landscape and status as a tourist destination, there is a great deal of need in the Golden Isles. It is something the Rev. Wright Culpepper sees daily. The pastor of First United Methodist Church in Brunswick also serves as the executive director of FaithWorks, which operates a number of local ministries.
Through FaithWorks, an umbrella charity organization, staff and volunteers assist those struggling with illness, via the Cancer Care Network, as well as those who have difficulty putting food on the table or paying utility bills. In fact, Sparrow’s Nest, a food pantry, alone serves hundreds of families daily. The organization also seeks to help the homeless, with ministries extending to the care of the homeless through The Well, a day shelter, and Open Doors, a construction apprenticeship program.
Of course, all of the ministries require funds. That is why donors are so critical. For those looking to give back, Culpepper says, there is no better time than the Christmas season.
“Give with your heart. Over 700 years BCE when the Babylonians were threatening Israel and Judah, the question came up as to what the people might give that would be pleasing to God such as burnt offerings, year old calves, thousands of rams, torrents of oil, first born child, etc,” he said.
“The prophet Micah says, ‘He has told you, human one, what is good and what the LORD requires of you: to do justice, embrace faithful love and walk humbly with your God.’”
A translation of the verse underscores an important message that Culpepper often shares. Donation amounts matter less than sincerity expressed through the act of giving.
“Jesus pointed out that the two pennies that the widow put into the offering was far greater that the largest gift because she gave everything she had. Imagine that ... giving everything you have,” Culpepper said.
While FaithWorks covers a good bit of ground in the “giving back” department, there are other local organizations that fulfill similar purposes. America’s Second Harvest, another local food bank, the Salvation Army, St. Vincent DePaul, GoodWill and Habitat for Humanity are just a few of those.
Culpepper is quick to point out that it doesn’t matter which group one gives to, but donors should examine why they are giving and seek to offer something really meaningful.
“Any organization will be glad to get a gift of money or time. But, they really want your passion as you seek to live out your relationship with the God who has first offered justice, mercy and love to you,” he said.
“There are thousands of people in Glynn County that are lonely and would simply like to have someone to visit them so that they are reminded that they matter. Giving a turkey dinner at Thanksgiving is a blessing, but true transformation will occur only when you give them your heart.”
For many, it’s easiest to surrender one’s heart to children. There are plenty locally who need help during the holiday season. At the Salvation Army, Capt. Chris Powell is busily overseeing the annual Angel Tree program, which allows donors to purchase gifts for those in need. Tags on the trees outline the age, gender and wish list items for the little ones. Once the gifts are purchased, they must be submitted unwrapped to the original location or the Salvation Army’s office at 1624 Reynolds St., Brunswick, by Dec. 14.
“Angel Tree is up and running. We’ve been able to partner with a number of businesses this year who have trees. We have Angel Trees at two main sites, at Bealls, near the Golden Corral in Brunswick, and at Chick-Fil-A on St. Simons Island,” Powell said. “It’s so important to help put a smile on the faces of these children who otherwise might not have anything on Christmas morning.”
Salvation Army is also kicking off another annual initiative — the Red Kettle campaign. Volunteers can choose a convenient time and location — between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday — to literally lend their hand to the cause. Volunteers are asked to donate time — one or two hours — to ring the bell while collecting donations.
“We (started) Friday. We will have bell ringers at 15 sites this year so there are plenty of opportunities,” Powell said.
The money collected will fund a number of social service programs in the area. Powell says that every penny helps.
“It makes a big difference, the funds raised through the bell ringing not only goes to Christmas but it’s a large portion of our budget. While we do get some federal and state funding, we are primarily a donation-driven organization. The funds go back into the community through our social services and our shelter operation. We also help people who can’t quite pay their utilities or mortgage,” he said.
Like Powell and Culpepper, Vicki West has dedicated her life to serving others. But the executive director of the International Seafarer’s Center offers a different approach than other organizations. In addition to offering volunteer opportunities to greet sailors entering the Brunswick port, the organization also offers other services for sailors at the center at 307 Newcastle St., Brunswick.
This season they are continuing their Christmas at Sea program. Volunteers assemble shoe boxes filled with donated items for the sailors. A list of needed items can be found at www.seafarerscenter.org. West notes they also have a clothing collection that sailors are allowed to select from as they visit. That, she adds, is currently critically low.
“We have a clothes closet from the sailors at our Newcastle St. and at the Colonel’s Island location. We really need men’s clothing between medium and large ... t-shirts, coats, jeans, pants,” she said. “We don’t take women’s clothing since they never grace our clothing closet. But we never charge for anything and we don’t have a limit on how much they can take. But we are really in need ... this is the lowest it’s been in three years. We are struggling.”
For those looking to clean out closets for donation material over the holidays, their generosity will be rewarded. All gifted items are tax deductible. And, West adds, the spiritual pay off is even greater.
“If you ever wanted to be a missionary or do mission work, this is your chance. You don’t even have to leave town to help someone from outside of the country and show them what America is really all about. It’s not what’s on the news ... Americans are all about love and we give unconditionally. And what better time to do that than at Christmas when we celebrate God giving us his son in Jesus,” she said.