By Johnny Jackson
They did it big this holiday season.
Around the Southern Crescent, people gave of what little they had to the needy and local charities, despite their own economic uncertainties.
Members of Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in McDonough contributed in a big way to the Henry Community Christmas for Needy Families Program. For the second straight year, the church teamed up with students of Mercer University's Henry County Regional Academic Center in McDonough in an effort to support the county-wide initiative.
Community Christmas is coordinated through the non-profit organization, Connecting Henry, Inc., to provide Christmas gifts and assistance to local needy families. Connecting Henry is a member of the statewide Family Connection Partnership organization, a networking group which connects various resources to those in need.
Some 1,300 needy families took part in the organization's efforts this year. About 30 of those families were adopted by the Wesley Chapel-Mercer partnership.
"The church has, once again, had an overwhelming response," said Sharma Lewis, senior pastor at the church. "When you partner and continue to partner with the community, good things happen."
All together, the collaboration collected gifts totaling thousands of dollars for the families. Wesley Chapel, alone, collected roughly $20,000 in toys, clothes, and supplies from individual church members.
"I feel like it's more a blessing to give than receive," Lewis said. "Even through hard economic times, this church has been phenomenally blessed. This is just a real exciting time. Our children and youth have really gotten excited about this."
Solomon Barge, the chairman of the church's outreach ministry, helped spearhead the church's gift collections, with church layman Scott Mahone. The two were joined by several church members on Dec. 16, as they loaded trucks filled with bicycles, clothes, and toys, and hauled them to a neutral storage site.
On Dec. 21, dozens more church members joined students from Mercer University in a collective effort to distribute the gifts to those 30 area needy families.
"This is a cross-ministry undertaking," Barge said. "As the need comes up, we plan to do as much as we can in as many areas as we can."
Crystal Frazier, the evening coordinator at Mercer and coordinator of the Wesley Chapel-Mercer partnership, said the school's part in Connecting Henry's annual outreach has grown steadily each of the four years Mercer has participated.
"I was a little nervous this year because of the economy," Frazier said. "It's tough, but people said they couldn't, not donate and help others in more need than themselves."
The partnership took on many more families this year than it did last year. However, Frazier said this year's Christmas wish lists were more practical than in years past, with people asking for necessary items, such as sweaters and scarves for the winter.
About 150 students at the regional academic center participated in the joint effort and collected more than 350 gifts, for about 15 families in the area.
Wesley Chapel members supported an additional 15 families. In all, the partnership supported the Christmas of 30 families and 108 children - more than triple the number of families Mercer adopted just two years ago.