Marcus Garraud remembers waking up and knowing that Santa came, and how excited he was to open presents on Christmas morning. As part of the Christmas Presents Project for Kids (CPPK) at St. Stephen’s Church in Lynn, he wants to help make sure that every child in Lynn has gifts to open on Christmas.
“I’m just glad that this lets kids who may not be in the most economically sound situation still have that part of Christmas,” said Garraud, a college freshman who has been involved with the OASIS youth program at St. Stephen’s for years.
The St. Stephen’s OASIS youth group has been doing a toy drive for children in Lynn for nine years. Even before that, parishioners would bring in toys, and families using the food pantry could choose a gift for each child. Now the program is open to all families living in Lynn. Dan Bell, an intern with the Life Together program in the diocese, is facilitating the collection of funds for the gifts, and said that they try to focus on educational gifts such as board games, card games and art supplies, along with warm winter clothing such as hats, gloves and scarves.
Last year, the program provided Christmas gift bags to 350 children and youth. The church opens for sign-ups on Tuesdays, when parents can fill out registration forms and select age-specific gifts for their children. Bell said that the first sign-up day registered 80 children.
The OASIS youth group is raising funds for the gifts by creating and selling artwork. They are working with youth director Jason Cruz, who also works at Raw Art Works in Lynn, a studio space for teens and young adults. This year, the youth have made puzzle pieces, which are brightly colored and collaged with inspirational messages from magazines, representing how the people supporting the program are “a piece of the solution.” The pieces have a wire hanger and can be used as an ornament or wall hanging. The youth group is hoping to raise $6,000 to purchase Christmas gifts for children in Lynn.
According to the Rev. Jane Soyster Gould, Rector of St. Stephen’s, many teens in the OASIS group receive their own Christmas gifts through a program at Trinity Church, Topsfield. She said that even in difficult times, it’s important that teens have the experience of both giving and receiving.
“Involving our teens in mission outreach like the gift drive helps break down the attitude that some people depend on the charity of others and others give through their great generosity,” Gould wrote in the CPPK 2013 donor letter. “We all have the capacity to give and the need to receive.”
Zachary Zimiroski, also a member of the group of youth working on CPPK, said that he has seen many of his friends and classmates and their families struggle to make ends meet.
“I’ve had a lot of friends who’ve struggled a lot, who I’ve seen at the food pantry with their mom and dad,” he said. “I feel like I’m helping a lot of people. It’s a great feeling seeing people’s faces when we’re passing out presents, to see them smiling…and knowing that [the holidays] could have been really hard, really stressful for them and to know we made that easier by doing the smallest thing we could do.”
Teens are available to speak to congregations or groups about CPPK and sell their “Complete the Puzzle” works of art. Contact Dan Bell by phone (631-807-6725) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).