For a week before Christmas, the rooms and hallways of Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Hamilton, Ontario, are transformed into a free food and toy store for over 1,500 families.
The church shares a parking lot with a local food bank, forming a partnership for more than ten years to offer the annual Christmas hamper program. The program provides free food for 6,400 people and toys for over 3,000 children in the community.
Church members organize food and toy displays and re-stock the shelves. They also prepare and serve coffee and cookies to families as they wait in line and assist with carrying full grocery bags to cars.
“It’s a wonderful atmosphere here all week,” said Immanuel member Jane DenHaan, who has been volunteering every year since the program started. “People are so grateful, some are even in tears. We get a lot of hugs!” she exclaimed.
“So many families just need a boost around Christmas time, and this is a great way to do it,” said volunteer Melinda Flokstra, who felt blessed to be a part of the program this year. “The words of ‘Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow’ rang true through the halls of our church this week!” she added.
Sara Collyer, operations manager for the Neighbour to Neighbour food bank, said that they are thankful to be able to use the church facilities each year.
“The larger space and the convenient location allow us to help a much higher volume of people than we could in our own building. And the environment is always warm and welcoming,” she said.
Henry Kranenburg, lead pastor at Immanuel, said that an event like this helps build bridges into the community in different ways; for some people it’s as simple as setting foot in a church where they may not have dared or desired to previously.
“In the end, while we want to bear fruit as best we can in the lives of people who have specific physical needs, our hope is somehow to especially help make a connection to Jesus. That is a hope that extends beyond a one-week program,” he said.
Visitors are invited to come back to attend the annual Candlelight Christmas Eve service.