When you live out of the way, as we do in northwest Missouri, you do for yourself and for others — or, many times, it doesn't get done. Every Christmas, we do a lot.
I guess I was always lucky, because when I was a kid we were never poor. We lived in a nice home and had food on the table. A lot of it was home-raised. Everything we ate was homemade from scratch. My sister and I wore homemade clothes, too. Mother always said she sewed my shirts and my sister’s dresses because they fit better than the ones she could buy in the store.
We may not have agreed completely at the time, but today I have to say she was 100% right.
These days no one wears homemade clothes anymore. If there’s anything good about the industrial might of Asia it is that thanks to cheap imports nearly everyone can afford new duds — even the Americans who are unemployed thanks to Asian imports.
Poverty isn’t exactly rampant here in Langdon, Missouri, or just over the hill in the big city of Rock Port. We don’t have unemployed people sleeping in the streets like they do in Washington, D.C., or New York City. But with the current recession, with jobs hard to find, and given the cost of nearly everything rising, it can be hard to feed and clothe a family.
One thing that helps is that rural communities like ours do a lot to take care of their own. Out here in rural America we’re a long way from the national consciousness. We know that chances are if we don’t do it for ourselves no one else will.
Along with generous citizens, we have something here called the Ministerial Alliance, which is a coalition of the ministers and pastors in our local churches. The Ministerial Alliance accepts donations of cash, food for a food bank, and clothing for needy people in the community – and even some who are just passing through.
We’re really blessed to have people here who feel the Christmas spirit all year long.
Anyone fortunate enough to be stranded in Rock Port can count on the Ministerial Alliance to help them with a few gallons of gas, a hot meal, and maybe even a place to sleep.
The school, that’s Rock Port RII, holds food drives for the Ministerial Alliance food bank. All the elementary classes compete with each other to see who can collect the most canned goods. Awhile back, my grandson Carter told his Mom, “I gotta have more food Mom, my class is falling behind!”
Happiness is being first across the finish line… with a can of beans in each hand.
Even the little kids at Cherished Cherubs day care center gather canned goods for the food bank. One lady laughs about the tyke who knocks on doors and says, “Gimmee your food!”
Three year olds can get away with that.
A couple of hills farther east in Tarkio, Missouri Community Services helps out by letting the ministers know who needs assistance the most. If Community Services approves, then four times a year folks can pick up an allotment from the food bank at the Methodist Church in Rock Port. Qualification by Community Services helps take the pressure off kindly men of the cloth who might be taken advantage of.
And it gets the help to people who really need it.
Soupy oatmeal on Christmas Eve may have been Ebenezer Scrooge’s main course, but most of us hope for something better. Rock Port and the Ministerial Alliance started Adopt-a-Family so gruel would never be part of the holiday menu here. Generous individuals, Sunday school classes, local clubs like Beta Sigma Phi, church congregations, or youth groups can agree to supply the Christmas needs of more needy families who ask for help during the holidays. This year every family gets a baked ham and all the trimmings along with clothes and toys for the kids.
My grandson Ryan’s Christian youth group, the Jesus Freaks (they picked the name themselves), adopt a family every year. This year they went around town on Saturday collecting donations, then purchased gifts, toys, clothes, and food on Sunday. Later they met at the offices of Scott Melvin Transport (Scott lets them use his place, no strings attached) where they wrapped the gifts. After that their leader, Lisa Wilczek, (Lisa works for the post office, but the sign on her van says “My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter”) saw to it everything was delivered to the Methodist church where the adopted family could pick it up.
Just for the record, I know these kids and they’re anything but freaks.
In fact, in a room lit up by the Christmas spirit, they’re downright beautiful.
This year 29 elderly families and 28 young families with a combined total of 45 hopeful kids were adopted. A local anonymous trust donated $4,000 to be used to purchase clothing for the children. That was included along with all the other gifts and food that the families picked up at the church last week.
The identity of donors isn’t made public if they don’t want to be known, and no one knows who the adopted families are either. In a community as small as ours, that’s a hard secret to keep, but the ministers and their helpers, people like Gertrude Mulvania and Don and Sharon Meyer, make it work.
Volunteers sort food and gifts according to family, and help pass it out so that everyone gets a fair share. Volunteers use the trust money to shop for retail-clothing bargains with a list sorted by age, size, and gender so that everyone gets garments the right size.
Even so, there’s no way they could fit near as good as the tailored shirts I wore in 4th grade.
But then, of course, I was lucky.