From The Heart volunteers, local churches and groups make Christmas bright for over 400 area children

Young Maddie James goes through the Families Christmas list. Jodi Thomas photo
Young Maddie James goes through the Families Christmas list. Jodi Thomas photo

Ten Christmases after their first Gift Giveaway, From the Heart Women’s Christian Ministries are still making Christmas bright for area families.

Christmas is generally a magical time for most children they dream at Christmastime of what they want and may find under the Christmas tree with great anticipation. But for many families finding themselves in the throes of hard times during such seasonal events as going back to school and Christmas can fill parents and children with worry and despair. Seeing this need, 10 years ago, in the midst of her own personal grief after her son’s tragic passing, FTH’s Founder Linda Hart came up will the idea to start a nonprofit that would invite and involve of all the area church ladies. She hoped that FTH would become a vehicle for the community to come together to do something tangible and make a difference in the lives of its neediest children.

Ten years later, they are well organized with two annual rummage sales, an annual holiday dinner and monthly luncheons that fund their yearly endeavors. Since its conception in 2006 the group has yearly hosted a Back to School event in August providing backpacks stuffed with school supplies, new shoes and a haircut. In the spring, they choose two college bound seniors to receive a laptop. The group also awards a scholarship to an outgoing senior. One of their largest endeavors every year is the FTH Christmas Gift Giveaway. The group also puts on a Christmas Party for all area children as well.

The Christmas Gift Giveaway involves great pre-planning. This year’s Christmas Gift Giveaway is headed up by FTH’s new President Christi James assisted by Wanda Crawford. Around September, the word goes out to local churches and area organizations to see who is able to participate. Then the local schools and churches give FTH a list of pre-picked families. Each child gets a choice of two presents; a want and a need. All that information is then transformed onto individual cutout red paper angels. The angels then are passed out to the participating groups whose members have a chance to pick which angel wishes they would like to fulfill.

On Dec. 15, the FTH ladies were still going strong and in the middle of organizing the Christmas Giveaway event to be held that night at 6 p.m. at the Shepard of the Valley Lutheran Church where families picked up their gift bags.

Tammy Marana and Wanda Crawford have been involved since FTH’s start.

“I thank God I can give back to others,” said Marana when asked about her longevity with the group.

Crawford said what she loves about FTH is the chance to be “Giving back to the community and those that are less fortunate.”

Marilyn Smith joined in 2007 soon after her husband died in 2006, to meet people and to get herself out of the house.

“I love FTH because I can give back to the community,” she said.

Newcomers like Marta Spencer and Marie Ghysels heard about FTH when Christi James visited their Sacred Heart’s Women’s Guild and shared what FTH was all about which inspired the group to get involved.

Shepard of the Valley Lutheran Church Pastor Doug Francik will soon will be retiring. His wife Earlene, who just retired from teaching kindergarten at Grace Lutheran in Escondido where the couple lives, were on hand helping the FTH ladies. This will be their last opportunity to do so as the couple plans to move in June to the Midwest to live closer to their children.

“This is my last year and this has been just a wonderful experience for me as a pastor to be able to watch the giving from this community to all these children,” Pastor Doug said. “What a blessing From The Heart is! I thank the Lord for them and their group.”

This year 12 groups participated in gift giving; Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Anza Valley Christian Fellowship, Valley Gospel Chapel, Emerging Love Fellowship, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, Calvary Chapel High Country, Living Hope Fellowship, Hamilton High School and Hamilton K-8, TOPS, Rancho Chapel and Lake Hemet Campground. More than 160 families were helped this year during Christmastime and approximately 425-plus children received gifts. FTH truly touches lives; each one on an individual basis -one child at a time.

FTH leadership wants said new members are always welcome. Their fundraising luncheons are held at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church on the second Saturday of month at noon, lunch is $5. Each meeting hosts a special speaker, usually from the community. Their first meeting of the year is scheduled for Jan. 14, 2017, and the special speaker will be Food for the Faithful’s Esther Barragan. Food for the Faithful is a local food pantry so bring a can of food for their food drive.

To get to Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church from highway 371, at the west end of Anza Township, turn north onto Bahrman Road then right (or east) onto Pena and the church is on the right (or south side) a few homes down. For more information, contact James at (951) 595-2400.

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