Church helps make Christmas bright for local needy families

by Alan Hodge

Through Cook’s Memorial Presbyterian Church, Tonya Welby (left) and other area parents facing tough economic situations received Christmas presents to give to their children. Dale Luckey (right), one of the event’s volunteers and a member of Cook’s Memorial, helped distribute the gifts. (Alan Hodge/MIM photo)

Like many parents dealing with tough economic conditions during the holiday season, single mother Tonya Welby feared Christmas day would come and go like any other.

But volunteers with Cook’s Memorial Presbyterian Church, 3413 Mt. Holly-Huntersville Road, made sure this didn’t happen for Welby and other needy families living in the Coulwood area.

Welby, a member of the Northwoods community in Mountain Island, and her sons were one of 20 families to attend a special Christmas dinner and toy giveaway at the church Dec. 21. Each family partook in a pizza dinner and received a large bag of groceries, a ham and Christmas gifts for the children. Kids also viewed the holiday film “The Polar Express” during the festivities.

“This helps tremendously,” Welby said. “I don’t care if I get anything, but I’ve been praying that my two boys wouldn’t have to get up Christmas morning with no presents. This event has answered my prayers.”

In addition to the fun, food and fellowship, Cook’s Memorial Associate Pastor Steven Barnes delivered an Advent Message.

“Christmas teaches us to reach out to everyone,” Barnes said. ‘The way we love others makes a difference whether they live in the Third World or the third house down the street.”

Emily Hunter, one the event’s organizers, contacted nearby Coulwood Middle School and received a list of needy families from social worker Stariyer Bowens. More than half of Coulwood Middle students are from poor households and eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

“Our first thing is to take care of the kids and make sure they are fed,” Hunter said. “In addition to the families of Coulwood students, we also invited some other people in need that we’ve come to know in the community.”

The federal government labeled Coulwood Middle a Title I school last July, a designation given to schools in which 75 percent or more of the student body receives free or reduced lunch. Federal officials give Title 1 schools additional funds to hire more teachers, teaching assistants and tutors, increase parental involvement, provide professional development for staff and purchase supplies.

Although getting the food and gifts distributed was quite a task, Cook’s Memorial Men of the Church member Dale Luckey said each child received a large, medium and small gift.

“We worked with Toys for Tots to get the gifts and our men’s group gave funds for the food,” Luckey said.

Items handed out included stuffed animals, toy trucks, games, dolls, footballs and more. A few families who were unable to attend the event had their food and gifts delivered to their door the next day.

Prior to the party, the Cook’s Memorial Men of the Church group has also been involved with distributing more than 200 Bi-Lo donated food boxes to needy families in the Mountain Island area. Earlier this year, a group of Coulwood-area Methodist churches also came together to provide needy Coulwood Middle students with book bags and school supplies.

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