Volunteers visit nursing homes on Christmas Day

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“Joy of Giving” offers presence and presents 

By Myra Holmes

On Christmas morning this year, as for the last dozen years or so, families from Laurelglen Bible Church (LBC), Bakersfield, Calif., will gather in the LBC parking lot for a bit of organization and some prayer, then scatter to several nursing homes to deliver gifts to seniors who might otherwise spend the holiday alone. They call it “Joy of Giving,” and it’s become a Christmas tradition for 150 to 200 LBC people.

It didn’t start that big, of course. It began as a small project of a women’s Bible Study group who desired to center their holiday on giving, not receiving. Dana Yarian, a member of that women’s group, was hesitant at first to participate: How would her family react? Would they willingly give up part of their Christmas day? “But once you go, that’s when you really catch the vision,” she says. “My family can’t imagine not going now.”

Joy of Giving really has very little to do with the gifts the LBCers hand out. The gift bags contain a few small practical items—socks, lotion, tissues—and a stuffed animal. The stuffed animal gives something comforting to hold on to, triggers memories of childhood and serves as a conversation starter. The bag is just an excuse to visit with the seniors, hear their stories and spend some time with them. And that’s the real gift.

Tim Hardy, care ministries pastor at LBC, says Joy of Giving is about presence, not presents: “The reason that we’re here is to give tangible love.”

Families often bring small children and senior-friendly dogs, both of which draw particularly joyful responses. LBCers are encouraged to pray with the residents, and Hardy says the seniors often reach out to clasp hands as they receive such expressions of love. He says that last Christmas, one senior received Christ during a visit by an LBC family.

Hardy says they’ve learned to focus their visits on facilities where residents tend to be, for whatever reason, forgotten and alone on the holiday. Currently, they work with four facilities, coordinating their visits with the activity directors. Privacy laws prevent the directors from giving out any names, so LBC provides gifts for every resident. Last year, they distributed gifts to and visited with about 500 seniors.

The LBC congregation has embraced Joy of Giving as part of their church Christmas tradition, donating the gift items, participating in a “packing party” to prepare the bags and praying for the Christmas morning interactions.

This year, LBC will be participating in Advent Conspiracy, an effort to think about Christmas giving in fresh ways, but Yarian says LBC already has a head start through Joy of Giving. She says the tradition is a perfect example of the true meaning of Christmas, when Christ gave himself as an expression of love. “He quickly pours that love back into our hearts as we pour into others,” she says.

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