College and university students affiliated with Jubilee Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in St. Catharines, Ont., have come to expect an early Christmas present from their church family in mid-December, just at the peak of exams.
Begun nine years ago by Mark Vandendool, then serving the church as a youth and young adult elder, the tradition has grown in the last three years to include handmade items from the crafty members of the congregation as a personal touch. In 2014 the packages included slippers and washcloths; scarves and headbands were included in 2015; and this year congregants are once again crocheting “Oma house slippers” to send with the gift packs.
Jocelynne Veldboom, in her fifth and final year at Redeemer University College in Hamilton, Ont., said receiving these gifts over the last four years has often turned a long and stressful day around. “One year I received a bunch of drawings from children in our congregation and handmade slippers. The intentionality and thoughtfulness behind these packages drives and pushes students to the finish line and reminds us that our congregation is with us even if we are away,” she said.
Families, individuals, and small groups choose to select one or more students and provide a card to accompany the gift as well as the funds to purchase and ship the packages in the first week of December. In 2016 the congregation is sending gifts to more than 40 students at institutions across Canada and the United States.
Anna Bailey, the church’s youth and young adult ministry coordinator, has received many notes of thanks from students over the years. In 2014 Shae Vlaar, then a first-year student at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., wrote: “Anna, this made my day. After my exam tonight I checked my mail expecting nothing, only to find this wonderful package from my ever-loving church family. You have no clue how happy this little gift made me. Thank you so much, and thank you to everyone involved at Jubilee. I’m feeling the prayers and love from my family. My feet are especially. So toasty!”