Pulling out her cell phone, Rebekah Jorden proudly displayed a recent family photograph.
In the photo, smiling children ranging in age from 3 to 19 pile up on a lawn around their mother. Smiling herself, Jorden named them one by one as she stood Friday morning in the warehouse at Crosslines of Springfield, where she had come to pick up their Christmas gifts.
“Things are looking up for our family,” she said.
Friday was gift pick-up day for more than 30 Springfield families like Jorden’s — and the day for volunteers to deliver gift boxes to some 80 care center residents — as the Share Your Christmas program sponsored by the Council of Churches of the Ozarks food pantry and the News-Leader rang out its 58th season.
“Well, it’s probably the best day of the project because we get to see the people grateful and excited about their gifts,” said Sheryl Wachter, longtime volunteer coordinator for Share Your Christmas.
One of Wachter’s tasks is gathering the family stories to be reported in the News-Leader each year — and one of the joys of gift distribution day was getting to meet the parents and grandparents she has interviewed.
“I’ve talked to them all on the phone several times, emailed them back and forth, but it’s my first chance to meet them face to face, so that’s always great,” she told the News-Leader as the program got under way this year.
On Friday, one of those parents was Jorden, whose family story was No. 10 in this year’s series.
Last Christmas, fleeing abuse at home, she and her children were living in a safe house provided by Springfield’s Safe at Home program. Then, in March, Jorden’s husband died.
The past year has been hard, Jorden says, but their lives are getting better.
“We’re in transitional housing,” she said. “God’s provided a vehicle for us.”
Thanks to that vehicle, Jorden can attend night classes to become certified in tax preparation.
“God’s been good to us,” she said.
More:Share Your Christmas: Families seek help for kids amid cancer, abuse challenges
The shared joy of giving
Christmas music swirled overhead in the Crosslines warehouse as volunteers in colorful holiday sweaters helped Jorden and others shop for additional gifts among free garage sale items ranging from books and home décor to clothing and kitchen utensils.
Beyond the tables, numbered boxes loaded with donated gifts awaited the arrival of many families later that day.
Donating their time to Share Your Christmas has become a holiday tradition for many of Wachter’s volunteer team, several of whom come from the Becomers Sunday School class at King’s Way United Methodist Church, said volunteer Kathy Hoppes, also in that class.
On Friday, waiting to help families select items from the tables, Hoppes joked with other volunteers about wearing the same flannel-lined jeans each year so that she can stay warm in the drafty warehouses.
Yet the enjoyment Hoppes gets from the experience makes volunteering for Share Your Christmas something she wouldn’t want to miss.
“It’s fun to be able to help people,” she said. “It’s one thing to donate, but this is one-to-one giving.”
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And it’s rewarding, she says, to be a part of that.
“I always volunteer, and I never thought I’d be on the other side of things,” she said on Friday.
Then last Christmas, she and her family were the ones in need.
Yet on Thanksgiving, all nine Jordens volunteered to serve the holiday meal at the Salvation Army, she said — even her 19-year-old son, Silas, on leave from boot camp in the U.S. Army.
And by helping others, they helped themselves, she added.
“When you reach out to other people, it helps you move past the hurt,” she said.
The Crosslines program helped her family this year, Jorden says, while Wachter notes that Share Your Christmas also fulfilled the wish lists of care center residents and other families, with donors bringing to the warehouse “exactly what we asked for” — and making their deliveries on time, too.
They even answered a last-minute call for household and hygiene items, Wachter said, dropping off plenty of those products for each family and resident recipient served by this year’s program.
Even inflation failed to deflate the giving.
“We were concerned with the economy,” Wachter said, “but the community just went above and beyond.”
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