Church's giveaway helps hundreds of families

Dec. 11, 2012 @ 12:37 AM

If Santa Claus is ever looking for a more efficient production model for his toy-making elves, he might want to take notes at one local church's annual Christmas giveaway.

The First Baptist Church in downtown Sevierville held its enormous Christmas giveaway Saturday in Building B, where over 400 families — approximately 1,600 people total — received a meal, brand new toys and spiritual guidance over the course of the day.

Beginning at 8 a.m., families made their way through the gymnasium in a streamlined process that involved over 300 church members who volunteered to work the event.

Families were served a meal, then the volunteers led them to the toy section, where they picked out one small toy and one large toy per child. Other volunteers then wrapped those toys and sent them to still more volunteers to package those gifts with other items, like clothing, toiletries and a food basket.

During this process, families were taken into another building to receive spiritual guidance if they wished.

"If they have a need, or if they want to talk about some spiritual matter, we have several counselors who are ready to talk to them," said Pastor Dan Spencer.

Once they were finished, they went back to the other building to receive the packages the volunteers had been putting together.

"It's an efficient process, and it's evolved over the years," said Pastor Jerry Hyder.

This giveaway began 28 years ago with just a few families. Members of the church would try to repair old toys and take them to families in need, said Judge Dwight Stokes, a deacon of the church.

"There were some good things to that. You'd actually get to be with the families in their homes," Stokes said. "But we decided that we'd have a store where we'd have brand new toys, brand new everything, and the families would come in and we could serve them all at one location."

Now the church has families sign up in advance for certain time slots, so not everyone packs into the building at once. During the sign-up phase, the church interviews each family to find out its specific needs and tries to meet those needs at this giveaway.

"We're trying to help folks at a time of year where a lot of people hurting," Spencer said. "It's a great ministry to the community where we try to pinpoint the families that have the greatest needs."

All items were purchased and donated by members of the church. Spencer said it was important to get new items for the families.

"It sends a message to folks that they're not getting leftovers or second-hand things, and that we care about them and want them to have something nice," he said.

Volunteers also prepared the food that was served Saturday, as well as provided child care to families so the children could stay in one area while the parents chose their toys. Several volunteers also worked as translators for Spanish-speaking families.

This was Spencer's first time at the giveaway. He joined the church just after last year's event, "but I heard people talk about it all through the year," he said.

rhargett@themountainpress.com