Last Sunday morning, North Shore Community Church congregants attended service wearing masks and sitting in every other pew to social distance. Together, surrounded by stained- glass windows reflecting the December sun, they sang along to worship songs and listened to the Rev. John Yenchko’s sermon.
“This was a wonderful morning for us,” Yenchko said. “We probably had 70 people in the room and maybe another 200 online, and a number of them are children and teenagers. We have a lot of children and teenagers in our church, so that’s always encouraging.”
Many of those congregants will be bringing in wrapped presents for children they have never met but want to help have an exciting Christmas.
While the coronavirus pandemic has presented many challenges for the church this year, Yenchko said, it has shown the generosity of the staff, the leadership and its members. The Angel Tree Christmas Gift Project, a 15-year-old program that aims to bring Christmas presents to children on Long Island whose parents may be unable to afford them, is part of that generosity.
“I was in the church [for five to six years] and willing to serve,” said Robert Pomeroy, a member who helps organize the program every year. “My own children are grown. We don’t really do gift giving anymore. It’s a way for me to stick close to the magic of Christmas.”
The Angel Tree Christmas Gift Program began as a ministry to children whose parents were being held in the Nassau County Correctional Center.
“We would be able to get names from this church down in Uniondale that had assess to that list,” Yenchko said. “We would buy presents and then deliver them to those homes and say, ‘This is from your mom; this is from your dad.’”
While it was a moving experience, Yenchko said, over the years people became more private and those lists of names no longer became available.
Going forward, Memorial Presbyterian Church, a longtime partner of North Shore Community Church through its food pantry, had a list of clients who were unable to provide the Christmas they wanted for their children So North Shore began buying gifts for the children of the food pantry clients instead.
Last year, North Shore had 74 children on its list of gift recipients, but this year, amid the financial crisis created by the continuing pandemic, the church is aiming to help 226 children have a merry Christmas.
Joanne Harrison-Smith, who works with the Deacons Ministry at Memorial Presbyterian, said that there were three times as many requests for gifts than in previous years.
“The numbers of people coming to food banks throughout the area, and I imagine other parts of the country, have grown,” Pomerow said. “So many people work in simple hourly jobs, many of them don’t have their jobs anymore. You’re unable to return. It’s a rough thing.”
Yenchko said that he, too, had noticed a rise in the need for support — whether food, financial or psychological. But, he added, he has also noticed a rise in generosity. “People are willing to share,” he said.
One of Pomeroy’s favorite parts of working on the program is distributing the gifts. Harrison-Smith explained: “What we do is, once we take the names of our guests, we ask them how many children they have in their family,” along with their ages and genders. “When they come for their groceries,” Harrison-Smith added, “we give them a package of gifts.”
Helping familes is a blessing, she said.
The Angel Tree Christmas Gift Project is one of the many missions North Shore Community Church is involved in. It also sending resources to missions in Cambodia, Benin and Haiti and operating a food pantry and thrift store that serves the local community.