As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.
1 Peter 4:10
What does it mean to give a gift? To some, it may mean wrapping up a perfect present that checks all the boxes on a list. To others, giving a gift means giving up yourself to serve others who need you. This past weekend, the people of Cottonwood Creek exemplified the latter through The Gift Sunday, a day of serving and kindness fueled by the love of God.
On The Gift Sunday, the Cottonwood Creek campus transforms into a mission field. The event consisted of many stations: meal packing, blood donation, hair donation, angel tree gift registration and winter coat donation to name a few. Some people walked through the doors ready to serve. They pre-planned their morning, registering for certain stations at certain times. Others, however had no idea the opportunity they were walking into.
At the largest station at The Gift, volunteers packed meals to send to those in need. This year, 460 people participated in packing 108,000 meals, which will be delivered to Naomi’s Village – a children’s home in Kenya. This year, one of the most striking volunteers was a young boy, Emerson Daley, who was packing meals with one hand. His other hand, tied up in a sling, was broken from playing football. When asked why he would volunteer with only one arm to use, Daley responded, “I just really like to help people in need and it really makes me happy.”
Carter Blood Care accepted blood donations for people in need of transfusions. Although needles often evoke fear, 29 brave people stepped up to donate blood. One donor, Julie Cravey, has participated in The Gift since it began. She recounts participating in meal packing and Operation Christmas Child, in addition to giving blood donations each year. “I love that The Gift brings people together to serve,” said Cravey.
At the Operation Care International Coat Collection station, 35 coats were collected for those in need of a warm winter jacket. Manned by Evan Gredes and Hannah LaVoie, the pair agreed that The Gift is a special time at Cottonwood Creek. “I love that the opportunity to serve comes to us,” said LaVoie. “It brings the opportunity to help people, and it makes it so easy to do good.”
One of the most exciting stations at the event was Pink Heart Fund Ponytail Donation. 27 girls and women donated their hair to make wigs for cancer patients. Some planned their hair donation, while others decided in a spur-of-the-moment commitment. The women of the
Hernandez family, a mother and her three daughters, donated their ponytails to the cause. Each of them had varying levels of nervousness, but all came out the haircut feeling beautiful and excited for the people their hair would go on to help.
Another mainstay of The Gift is Operation Christmas Child, an organization that sends Christmas presents, alongside gospel messages, to children in need all over the world. Operation Christmas Child is a ministry project run by Samaritan's Purse, a Christian organization that provides physical and/or spiritual aid to those in need all over the world. This year, Cottonwood Creek received over 700 boxes. One generous donor was Pella Windows, who donated 96 boxes filled with gifts.
Alongside the yearly Operation Christmas Child donation collections works Sally Loyd, a longtime Cottonwood Creek volunteer. Sally began volunteering at The Gift in 2009, and usually participates in meal packing, blood donations and has helped lead Operation Christmas Child at Cottonwood Creek for the past two years. Sally is described by others as one of the most humble, hardworking people at Cottonwood Creek.
In an adjacent area, Naomi’s Village set up Christmas card coloring stations, which are sent to children in Kenya. Hundreds of cards were created this year, which will bring the love and wonder of Christmas to every child who receives one.
Children are a definite focal point of The Gift weekend, and that was no different at our Angel Tree registration, where volunteers could sign up to provide Christmas presents to local families in need. This year, 38 Angel Tree families were adopted, and registration remains open online. For the last several years, Jessie Rohlneier has contributed to Angel Tree at The Gift, and she has recently taken on more responsibility. She is involved in preparation work, as well as matching volunteers with Angel Tree families. As an elementary school teacher, Rohlneier recounted her experiences with families in need, stating, “I’ve worked in low-income schools, and I have a heart for those children. This is a way where I can love on those kids.”
The Gift would not be complete without the Evangelism Workshop, which provided methods for sharing the gospel confidently and without fear. Several groups were able to participate throughout The Gift, and the skills learned there will no doubt go on to be invaluable.
Overall, The Gift 2020 was a massive success. The generosity and commitment of volunteers was astounding, and it will be truly amazing to watch the wonders that God performs with the hearts of people all over the world because of the efforts given through The Gift.