The Villages Daily Sun

Local Churches Give the Gift of Holiday Joy

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Posted: Saturday, December 16, 2017 8:00 am

Tissue paper and gift wrap went flying in the Wildwood Middle High School cafeteria Tuesday as Christmas came early for the five dozen students crowded around the long

lunchroom tables.

Mentors from New Covenant United Methodist Church in The Villages played Santa as they dropped off gifts for their mentees at WMHS. Unveiled under giftwrap were games, clothes, books and accessories.

Eighth-grader Stephanie De Beaux beamed as she unwrapped a tan cross-body purse. She threw her arms around the shoulders of her mentor, Chris Wile, of the Village of Sabal Chase, when she saw her next gift: a CD player and copy of “The Essential

Michael Jackson” album.

The gifts came courtesy of members of the New Covenant congregation who pulled tags off an angel tree with the names, ages and wish lists of all the students participating in the church’s

mentorship program.

“It makes me feel all warm inside, very happy,” De Beaux said, reflecting on the thought that strangers went out of their way to make her Christmas wishes come true.

This is just one example of the many ways Villagers helped make Christmas bright for underprivileged children across the tri-county area.

The fellowship hall at St. Mark the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Summerfield turned into a makeshift Santa’s workshop as parishioners loaded tables with towering stacks of wrapped presents. Before the end of last week, Society of St. Vincent de Paul volunteers at St. Mark had handed out more than 1,600 gifts to 300 children.

“You have to see some of these families that come in,” said Cathy DePalma, a volunteer at St. Mark. “They’re not in good shape, they don’t have good shoes, they’re hungry … There are a lot of people who really are struggling.”

But thanks to the generosity of Villagers, DePalma, of the Village of Sunset Pointe, said children who may not have had any gifts under the tree will have plenty of wrapped presents waiting for them Christmas morning.

At St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Wildwood, families rolled in and out of the church this week wheeling out carts of Christmas presents for their children at home. Pushing bikes with one hand and carts piled with presents in the other, the families were given everything they would need to wrap the gifts in time for Christmas morning, down to wrapping paper and tape.

“You see joy on a lot of faces,” said Cindi Van Nostrand, director of operations at St. Vincent de Paul. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding.”

A team of volunteer elves manned a storage room packed full of gifts, searching and sorting to find the tag numbers to match the children as their parents arrived for pickup. Before the week was over, they would hand out presents to roughly 470 families.

“Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself,” said volunteer Everett DeLease, of the Village of Belvedere. “We’re just trying to do as he said and help the poor.”

“I think that’s what everything is about, helping each other,” added volunteer Geraldine Boglivi, of the Village of Duval.

Back at Wildwood Middle High School, the support of the mentorship program extends beyond the holidays. Each volunteer commits to pairing up with their matched mentee for five years, from eighth grade to senior year.

“We’re here to support, love and encourage them, to help them fulfill the dreams they have for themselves,” said Anne Foote Hill, New Covenant mentorship program coordinator.

Ninth grader Tamia Jones and her mentor, Sharon Acton, of the Village of Largo, were paired up through the program last year. They sat chatting away Tuesday afternoon after opening presents during the cafeteria holiday party.

Jones said the two have so much in common it is easy to fill their short sessions of time together.

“I love being with her,” Jones said. “I look forward to it.”

One thing that differs, they joked, is their taste in snacks — with Acton crunching down on a plate of fruits and veggies while Jones dove into two vanilla cupcakes.

“I’m not sure who laughs more,” Acton said between giggles.

Stephanie De Beaux and Chris Wile were on their second meeting of the day Tuesday, with the holiday party falling on the same day as their weekly lunchtime catch up. The pair were giddy about being able to celebrate their first Christmas together.

“We’re a good team,” Wilde said. “I’m looking forward to our next four and a half years. We’re going to grow together.”

“And hopefully we can still talk after that,” De Beaux added with a smile.

Sarah Wilson is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. She can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5401, or sarah.wilson@thevillagesmedia.com.