SPARTA,NJ- A program called Christ in Christmas was created four years ago to give a small measure of comfort to children who are living in homeless shelters in Sussex county comfort at night.
Imagine a world where one day you wake up and all that you know, and love, is gone; your home, your toys, your clothes, your bedroom, your bed, and your favorite stuffed animal that helps you sleep through the night. You find yourself amongst 200 strangers all sleeping on cots, not unlike your own. You are frightened and there is nothing to hold, to help you feel safe; and you are only five years old. For a young child, the warmth and security of a teddy bear, especially to sleep with, becomes a nightly pleasure. Yet for these children, homeless children, such a blessing does not exist. Christ in Christmas was created to give those children peace at night.
Christ in Christmas is also an opportunity to foster an understanding of service to others. It brings together young children and teens from the Sparta community to teach the young ones about the true meaning of Christmas. Young children ages five through ten with the assistance of teens, build teddy bears to be donated to more than 100 families. This year 135 teddy bears were given to children throughout homeless shelters in Sussex county. Christ in Christmas took place on Saturday, December 7.
Dr. Katherine Korkidis, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Sparta and event founder, is coordinating the annual effort. She said,” The children spent time building the bears and although they clearly loved them, they were happily willing to give them away. Before doing so the children placed hearts into the bears they made and gave them one final hug before placing them on a table to be blessed by Rev. David McDonnell. The children included a letter written to the child receiving the bear.”
Following the blessing of the bears, the children enjoyed a musical program given by singers, actors, and musicians from both Sparta High School and Pope John High School. Korkidis said, “This hour is dedicated to thank the young children and their families for their work done with heart, to build the bears. It is also a time to enjoy being with each other as a community family.”
The program included Christmas songs and carols, Scripture readings, poetry, and scenes from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, directed by Christopher Michael Motto. For the second hour of the program the musicians, singers, and actors were teens and young adults serving as role models for the younger children. "Teens are a greater influence to young children, even beyond their own parents. What greater gifts can these teens give our children at Christmas than their time, talents, and most of all their hearts. By example, they teach our children that giving of yourself is the 'true gift of Christmas' ”, according to Korkidid.
The final thank you to the young attendees was the visit of Santa Claus and Sister Thomasina Gebhard, Director of the Partnership for Social Services Family Center.
Father McDonnell, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake parish, remarked, “It is a busy time of year, and this event for our parish gives families the opportunity to come together and remember Christ is at the heart of all of this. Young children with their families will have the chance to help out others and think of people in need during this Advent season.”
The inspiration for the event cane when Korkidis visited a local homeless shelter in Sussex county a few years ago. Having worked for many years with homeless shelters in New York City, she was surprised to realize that our local shelters housed mostly families with young children. Being a parent, and knowing that her sons slept comfortably in their own beds each night, she decided to reach out to these young children. Korkidis said “We want these young children (living in shelters) this Christmas to have some comfort through the gift of a teddy bear made by another young child. When they sleep at night, the bears will give them something to hug, a sense of security throughout the night.”
This event is an annual event given during the first Saturday of December. For families interested in attending this event next year on December 6, 2014, registration will be available on Our Lady of the Lake Parish website, www.ourladyofthelake.org, beginning in early October of 2014.
A final thought from Korkidis; "We hope you can join us again in 2014, gathered together as one family united in faith, with the giving spirit. Together we can make 2014 a special Christmas for these young children."