When Christmas Comes to Town

For many of us, Christmas is a joyful time of year, filled with family togetherness, love and giving. But it can also be a time of stress and hardship that greatly impacts the most vulnerable of us: children. Some families are suffering from financial hardships due to the loss of a job, an illness or an accident. Many children are suffering from abuse and neglect and are homeless. What’s it like for kids who spend Christmas in a hospital bed or a homeless shelter? My City Magazine discovered that there are many good souls in Genesee County who strive to make Christmas special for children in our community. Here are their stories.


Carriage Town Ministries

carriage  (36)Carriage Town Ministries, a faith-based rescue mission, has opened its doors to hurting and homeless men, women and children since 1950. According to Cindy Johns, Volunteer and Special Events Coordinator, the mission is open to the public for Christmas Dinner on December 19. “Every child gets to choose a toy and a traditional ham dinner is served with all the fixings,” she said. “We use this as an avenue to share God’s love with the community.” CTM also sponsors an annual Christmas Adopt-a-Family event, which always receives a good response from the community. Donors purchase gifts for families, who get to open them on Christmas Day. The staff at CTM provides a wonderful Christmas Day for homeless families who are residing at the Family Center. The residents enjoy brunch and a decorated tree in the Center’s family room. “While it’s sad to be in a shelter at Christmas, we want to make it special,” says Cindy. “Christmas here is nice.” ♦


Hurley Medical Center

One thing we all know is that life is full of the unexpected. In one split second, an accident or illness can leave a child spending Christmas in a hospital bed or in the emergency room at Hurley Medical Center. As the only Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the region, as well as the only Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and Children’s Emergency Department, it is not uncommon to have a child airlifted to the trauma center, according to Laura Parcels, the Director of Child Life Services. And with the generosity of the community, Hurley is able to brighten the lives of the pediatric patients and their families throughout the holidays. “We make Christmas special because of our wonderful donors,” Laura says.
Donations come from all over – businesses, individuals, schools, doctors’ offices, service organizations and churches – and provide gifts, financial assistance, visits from Santa Claus and even pizza parties for kids at Christmastime. One family walked into Hurley and said to Laura, “Tell me about a family that needs help.” The donors provided wonderful gifts, including an iPad, for the chosen family. “The family was so deserving of the help they received,” Laura remembers.

There is nothing more heartbreaking than a child who is fighting cancer. Treatment is often long-term, taking both an emotional and financial toll. There is a group of donors who supply Christmas gifts for oncology patients and their siblings. “There are so many generous people in Genesee County and they never want recognition!” said Laura. When she broke the news to one family that they would be getting some gifts for Christmas, the mother started to cry. She told Laura that she and her husband had just had a discussion about not being able to afford gifts that year. “She was always so strong; you would have never known that they were struggling,” says Laura. ♦


Shelter of Flint, Inc.

shelter (47)Shelter of Flint, Inc. provides emergency, transitional and permanent supportive housing to homeless families, and 60 percent of the people served are kids under the age of ten. “It is really important to us to give our families a truly magical holiday,” says Liz Ruediger, Director of Development. And it is the community that makes that happen with its support of the Shelter of Flint’s Adopt-a-Family Program. According to Liz, a wish list is collected from families at the shelter and given to the generous donors to help them get to know the adopted family when purchasing gifts for them. “The generosity of the community is so amazing!” Liz exclaimed, adding that they provide gifts not only for the children, but for the parents, as well.
Living in a homeless shelter can be hard for children and they respond to it in different ways. “For the older kids, it’s really tough,” says Liz. It’s also difficult for the parents. Liz shared a story about one mom who was having a really rough day. “Let me show you something,” Liz said to the woman. She showed her a large stack of Christmas gifts that had been donated for her and her family. “Someone out there cares,” Liz told her.

The shelter accepts gifts throughout the holiday season. “We are so grateful to the community for their response to those in need. We can’t do what we do without their support,” she says. “At this time of year, we cry a lot; we cry about the generosity and the difference it makes for these families. At their worst moment, we try to give them something to hold onto.” ♦


Whaley Children’s Center

Whaley SignWhaley Children’s Center provides shelter, hope and healing to perhaps the most vulnerable of our children: those who are survivors of abuse and neglect. The children there are not forgotten at Christmastime, and many wonderful people work to make the holiday magical and beautiful, according to Katrina Khouri, Development Director. “Children at Whaley are fortunate to have the love and support of so many individuals and organizations that sponsor them for the holidays,” says Katrina. “Once they feel safe here at Whaley, they can open their hearts and enjoy the holidays. They can enjoy just being kids with no worries.”

The children, Whaley staff and volunteers put up a Christmas tree, stockings and decorations in each of the cottages and homes so that on Christmas morning, the kids wake up to the joyful sight of a tree sparkling with lights and gifts from their wish lists bursting from its base. There is an abundance of food and desserts, thanks to the wonderful kitchen staff and many volunteers who bring in delicious treats. “Christmas takes on a whole new meaning for these kids,” says Katrina. ♦


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