For many, the holiday season is a magical time full of laughter, joy, family and cheer. For others, the holiday is just another painful reminder of what they’re missing.
Baldwin Park residents and organizations are working to change how the holiday season is perceived by those who are less fortunate.
BALDWIN PARK KIDS CLUB
Bree Holbrook and the Baldwin Park Kids Club have already begun work for the season of giving. The club is currently working on packing shoeboxes for kids overseas who do not have a Christmas.
The shoeboxes will be filled with items such as a large stuffed animal, a soccer ball with a pump, arts and crafts, personal hygiene items such as shampoo and conditioner, small toys, underwear and socks, and personal letters of encouragement.
Holbrook says she wants her kids to realize the holidays not only are about getting new toys but also serving others.
“I love giving my children gifts and connecting that to the generosity of Jesus,” Holbrook says. “I also want them to know that generosity flows from Him to others. We all know that feeling you get from giving your time, energy or resources is one of the best feelings in the world. I want them to experience that feeling and for their memories of Christmas to be filled with the excitement and joy of both giving and receiving.”
Although the group was unable to do much last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year, the club is filling 10 shoeboxes with the help of 10 local families. Holbrook says they hope to double the shoe-boxes packed next year.
The club also will be putting together packages for families in the NICU at AdventHealth.
“The Kids Club was a huge rea-son we fell in love with Baldwin Park eight years ago, and we have now never felt more at home,” Holbrook says.
Those who wish to join or get involved in future events can email the BPKC Community Service Coordinator Bree Holbrook at [email protected].
BALDWIN PARK ELEMENTARY
Terri Poulos, who leads the PTA Baldwin Cares program at Baldwin Park Elementary School, is also in-stilling the importance of volunteering in her children’s lives.
From a young age, Poulos says her parents taught her to give back to the community and help others who are less fortunate.
“We all need help at some point in our lives, so I feel that it’s important to help others when we can,” Poulos says.
An important part of the program during the holidays is the school’s Giving Tree.
Every year, the school comes together to host the Giving Tree holiday drive to help assist some of the school’s families during the holiday season.
To help a student in need, residents can visit the Giving Tree located in the school’s front office. For further questions or information, contact Terri Poulos or Sandra Silver at Baldwin Park Elementary.
Growing up in a rough Miami neighborhood, Shonta McCord says her passion for community outreach came naturally.
McCord’s mother and godmother played a major role in the passion. McCord says her mom, who was a teacher, would take money out of her own pocket to help struggling local families.
Now, McCord volunteers out of Baldwin Park as a member of the Seminole Club of Greater Orlando.
The club is an all-volunteer alumni group dedicated to providing support and financial assistance to Orlando area students who wish to fulfill their dreams of attending Florida State University.
This year, the club is working on organizing an event tentatively called “Seminoles for Seniors.”
The alumni will work together to support multiple assisted living facilities through a Christmas drive where seniors will have the opportunity to receive socks, blankets, slippers and other essential items.
“We noticed that a lot of the holiday drives are geared towards kids or families in need where toys are supplied,” McCord says. “We wanted to do something different for a community that is often forgotten.”
McCord says the organization is also planning to host a “Wrap Party” during which residents can help wrap and prepare gifts. She says it would be a great opportunity for people who cannot donate to get involved.
“My family showed me that it is important to be fortunate even when things are not so great, which is why even growing up in a bad area, I felt lucky for what we had,” McCord says. “I think this is some-thing a lot of people can relate to—especially since the pandemic.”
For more, visit orlandonoles.org.
Like other local organizations, Glenridge Middle School has also had their holiday plans affected by the continued pandemic.
Glenridge Middle School PTSA Community Events Chair Katie McBride says although the school normally would host a food drive at this time of year, because of safety concerns, the school instead is putting together a gift card drive.
The initiative, run by school staff member Kenlyn Talbot-Williams, asks donors to purchase gift cards to shops such as Publix or Walmart. The gift cards will be given to students and their families in need for Thanksgiving.
“It’s been a very challenging few years, and I know our entire school community is eager to support one another,” McBride says. “We have had a tremendous outpouring of support.”
McBride and her husband also put together a Christmas light display each year that collects donations. The couple has been decorating their home for eight years.
“We love Christmas lights and always love to drive around and look at other people’s displays,” Katie says. “We noticed that some displays asked for donations to pay for the display. We wanted to collect donations but put it towards something that would better our community.”
The McBrides triple the donations given and use it to support the local schools in the Baldwin Park community.
Katie says they have collected for Baldwin Park Elementary’s Cares program for four years. The program provides food, clothing, school supplies, holiday gifts, and more, to the under-served students at the school.
The McBrides received $2,000 in donations last year, tripled to more than $8,000 raised.
Last year, because of the amount of donations, they we were able to donate to Glenridge Middle School and Winter Park High School for their similar programs, as well.
“These past few years have been so hard on everyone, and we just want to ensure that students in our community have the support and necessities they need to succeed,” Katie says.
The display can be found at 4564 New Broad St.
Even with no time, money, or re-sources, Lauren Colby Hudson is giving back to her hometown community in Palatka all the way from Baldwin Park.
Hudson is the coordinator for the Angel Tree program at her home-town church.
Angel Tree, which is run through the Children’s Home Society of Florida, provides Christmas gifts for children that are from families being serviced by the organization.
Hudson says parents often are placed in the program through a court order because of involvement with factors such as neglect, abuse, criminal charges or drugs.
Working with an area coordinator, Hudson provides gifts for children in her specific home county.
“I remember asking my pastor why we had never done anything like this at the church, and he had told me there was no one to organize it,” Hudson says. “Before I knew it, I had jumped up and volunteered.”
Now, four years later, Hudson is leading the program at age 23 while also attending law school.
Through the program, each child picks two wishes and a need, totaling for three gifts per child. Even as their wishes, Hudson says many children ask for things such as clothes, shoes or bedding. Each child and adult also receives an age-appropriate Bible.
Those who wish to donate can do at bit.ly/3FuSm9a.
WINTER PARK DAY NURSERY
Winter Park Day Nursery Executive Director Ali DeMaria also is passionate about giving back locally.
DeMaria has been at the nursery for 16 years and helps the program serve its mission in providing high quality care and education to children. The program currently serves its max enrollment of 64 students.
“The results, the impact and the feedback that we are able to see in each child as they come through our program, and not only each child but each family, is so rewarding” DeMaria says.
This year, the nursery will host a holiday program through which families can come see their kids perform, as well as a holiday store for families in need, stocked by donors.
Children will receive one free gift at the store, and parents will have the opportunity to cheaply shop various items such as toys, books, or clothing for their child.
DeMaria says the shopping gives parents the opportunity to feel like they have a say in what their child is receiving, and the rest of the funds earned will go back to the school.
DeMaria says the holidays sometimes magnify struggles parents face. Parents can face mental-health challenges, because they are notable to buy their children gifts, and many parents must take off work for their child’s winter break, which causes increased financial stress.
“Giving is something that we shouldn’t just be thinking about during the holiday season,” DeMaria says. “Giving back is important all year long, and that is what we will continue to strive for and give thanks for."