On Saturday, Faithway Assembly of God demonstrated that it is far better to give than to receive.
Wearing smiles larger than the ones of the children who were getting the toys, church members shared the story of Christmas, handed out candy canes and celebrated the occasion.
It was the seventh year the church had pulled together to distribute gifts to children who otherwise would have had a leaner Christmas.
Pastor Bob Pierce, who oversaw the event and led a condensed worship service, said it was an event that was about children.
“Amazed at the joy of the kids” was the feeling Pierce said he was left with each time the church held its Toys from Heaven event. “They are just really happy when they leave that building,” he said of the children after the event.
However, it is not just about the toys, he said.
Conspicuously absent from Saturday’s event was the iconic Santa Claus. This was by design, Pierce said. Instead of allowing commercialism to dominate the celebration, Faithway members focused on the Biblical aspect of the holiday.
The church’s youth group presented a short play about the birth of Jesus while other members offered a puppet show centered on the joy of giving versus receiving. Pierce said that part of the show was “a big deal to the little kids.” As the puppets told their story, Pierce said the children’s excitement overflowed with some of them grabbing the puppets.
The guests at Faithway were also treated to music courtesy of Don Hendricks and several of his music students as they shared a number of holiday selections. This was another layer of the event, Pierce said. “We want to expose them to the possibilities for their lives,” he said. “Maybe if they see a light it will inspire them.”
However, before Toys from Heaven can take place, there is a great deal of work that goes on behind the scenes.
The church operates the See the Need Food Pantry; that is where the children who are part of the gift distribution are found, according to Pierce. This year 155 children were located through the pantry.
While most people spend the fall raking leaves and basking in autumn sunshine, Faithway members are already thinking of Christmas. Pierce said that is when the push for the fundraising begins.
Whether it is a bake sale, a chili supper or a roadblock, the members pull together for the end result, he said. But it is not just the members of the church who support the toy distribution. Pierce said from Bill Waddell at WLAF, who donates airtime for a telethon, to the city of LaFollette who allows the roadblock, Toys from Heaven is widely supported in the community.
“If we cooperate and work together for our community hopefully we can help these kids see a better light on life,” Pierce said.
Once the funds are generated, the fun begins. A host of volunteers armed with their lists start shopping. If there are around a dozen volunteers then the presents can be purchased in about two hours, according to Pierce. After the shopping trip the church members work to assemble the gift bags complete with name tags.
Then the actual event is planned. Pierce said the children and their families are encouraged to attend the occasion not just come by the church to pick up the gifts. “We want to unify everybody for a good time,” Pierce said.