Pastor Mike Dillman knows that not every family was in a position this year to have the kind of Christmas they wanted.
With unemployment rampant in San Joaquin County and many being forced to reevaluate their financial situations, Dillman – the pastor at A Place of Refuge – made sure that for the fifth straight year the community would be welcomed in for a hot meal and children given a toy that could put a smile on their face.
“Our passion is to make sure that every family and child can have something special this Christmas season,” Dillman said. “I think that a lot of families were left to choose between whether to pay their bills and their rent or put gas in their tank or be able to buy Christmas dinner and put toys under the tree.
“The kids are the one who lose out, and through the goodness of the community we’re able to keep that Christmas spirit alive and show people that we care.”
The first four years of the event were held as an early morning community breakfast, but according to Dillman the way that Christmas fell on a weekend this year threw a curveball into the mix. Rather than holding services on Sunday, he decided to hold everything on Saturday morning and then host a community brunch in the afternoon.
And he got a little bit of extra help this holiday season.
The church hired Amanda Maxwell – a seven-year veteran of the Los Angeles Dream Center – to spearhead the outreach efforts and help coordinate the holiday events.
With a team of volunteers she was able to focus on donations from both individuals and businesses in the community that helped outfit the church with enough gifts to send every child home happy.
While it took a lot of work, Maxwell said that focusing on the end result helped make everything that much easier.
“I think that there are a lot of people out there that are hurting right now,” Maxwell said. “I think that people are willing to do anything that they can to help provide a Christmas smile for kids that wouldn’t otherwise get one.
“We’re thankful to the community for their help, and at the end of the day it’s all about fostering a community Christmas spirit for children and families.”
Selena Romero – who brought her 2-year-old daughter to come get a gift – couldn’t have been more thankful that there were groups out there willing to go out of their way to help families in need.
“It’s been a rough year and I think this is something that’s going to help a lot of people,” she said. “I know that I’m grateful for this, and a lot of other people out there are too.”