’TIS THE SEASON OF GIVING. Robin Lawrenz and her son Peter helped a busy team of volunteers during Advent Serve Day by wrapping gifts for kids in foster care. (Heather Westcott Photo)
By ALLIE HASTINGS
NORTH READING — Over 300 volunteers and congregants from the Trinity Evangelical Church, located at 105 Haverhill St., participated in their first-ever Advent Serve Day on December 12. This large-scale effort was organized with the intention of having town residents engage in service projects to spread Christmas cheer in North Reading and in surrounding communities this holiday season.
Hundreds of congregants met at Trinity at 10 a.m. for opening worship, then dispersed to various project sites, honoring the light of Jesus through completing acts of kindness and service. Team leaders were able to put together a total of 21 projects that helped serve teachers, seniors, people in recovery, and the homeless in North Reading as well as Reading, Wilmington, Stoneham, Haverhill, Lowell and Lawrence.
Heather Westcott, who leads Trinity’s Missions Ministry with her husband and organized many behind-the-scenes efforts with her Advent Serve Day Co-Leader Hannah Gansenberg, explained that the Trinity Church supports 15 different ministries and Christian-based institutions throughout the year. During this Christmas season, they wanted to demonstrate further support for these groups by partnering with them while giving back to the community.
Westcott and Gansenberg collaborated with approximately 30 service project team leaders to ensure that the church’s first Advent Serve Day offered service opportunities for every age, ability, and life stage.
Over 100 people spent the day at Trinity in North Reading where they created gift packages to bless those experiencing homelessness and food insecurity, wrote encouragement cards for female victims of sexual exploitation and drug addiction, and assembled “boxes of sunshine” containing brightly colored supplies for teachers in the community that have been hit hard by the effects of the pandemic. Every teacher at the North Reading Middle School was to receive a box of sunshine, complete with appreciation notes, an encouragement card, and yellow items representing sunshine such as highlighters and potato chips.
A total of 60 encouragement cards and 60 teething rings were also created for inclusion in New Mom-theme gift baskets, which were created in partnership with Your Options Medical, an organization that provides services for women facing unplanned pregnancies.
Support for foster families
A handful of volunteers also spent time sorting through clothes, shoes, toiletries and diapers to be donated to foster care families, as Trinity sponsors foster children year-round through the Foster Box initiative. Congregants were able to wrap well over 150 Christmas gifts – including three bikes – for 30 children currently in foster care. Westcott is a foster parent herself, so this particular service project meant a lot to her personally.
In North Reading, service projects included hosting a birthday party for Jesus at the Royal Meadow View Nursing Home on North Street, engaging in songs and fellowship with residents at the McLaughlin House on Park Street, and participating in handyman-for-a-day activities to provide aid to congregants and seniors in need of house repairs.
Paying it forward
Additionally, members of the church assembled and hand-delivered gift bags to 25 houses in the neighborhood around Trinity, simply to spread Christmas cheer.
“The gift bag included another mini bag of candy and a gift card to give to a friend or someone in need to ‘pay it forward,’” explained Westcott.
Some volunteers opted to venture outside of North Reading, completing maintenance projects at the Warren Sober House in Stoneham, repairs at Michael’s Sober House in Wilmington, and meal preparatory tasks with Open Hearts’ Ministry in Haverhill.
Christmas cards were written for all 60 residents of Artis Senior Living Center in Reading, and 50 personal care packages, complete with cards, hand sanitizer, hand warmers and other toiletry essentials, were assembled for Haverhill’s families in need.
Team leader Jamie Hansen traveled with a group of roughly 10 people to Place of Promise in Lowell, which serves individuals affected by homelessness, incarceration and addiction, to set up and prepare materials for an outdoor Nativity Night. Congregants involved in this service project connected with attendees through their live Nativity and Christmas caroling event.
After completing an array of service programs on Advent Serve Day, congregants were able to exchange stories of their experiences and learn about the lives that had been touched in the process.
The beauty of service
Westcott holds a personal belief that the beauty of community service stems from receiving more, in a figurative sense, than one can give physically, as it is often the person who completes an act of kindness that ends up feeling blessed in return.
“For the people who are actually doing the serving and the service work, it can be life-changing,” Westcott expressed.