Meet three projects in Lansing that turn a blue Christmas into a jolly white Christmas!

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More than half of Americans struggle to afford Christmas gifts. According to a poll by The Associated Press, 57% say paying for presents for their families during the holiday season is hard. However, many initiatives are out there to help people in need during these times. In Lansing, Shawna Ainsworth and Payne Farm’s “Brightening Christmas,” Salvation Army’s “Brighten the Holidays,” and South Brook Villa Senior Living prepping gifts for their Christmas party are local aids that stand out. 

Everyone had different motivations for wanting to start their specific assistance program, but they revolved around the same premise of bringing smiles to the faces that they do help. The motivation for Ainsworth comes from family.

“It was something that my mom had done years ago,” said Ainsworth. “And after she passed, I kind of took it upon myself to recreate. So, over the years, I have looked to the community, my own business, and those of people I know to help sponsor children and the elderly. Gives them a Christmas that they wouldn’t normally otherwise receive.” 

Salvation Army’s motivation for wanting to help pertains to its mission statement, which relates to the Bible, and its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach Jesus Christ’s gospel and meet human needs without discrimination. 

“We just help families that are out there, bringing hope and joy during this time,” said Major Nathan Johnson. “A lot of what we do at the Salvation Army is not a lot of glitz and glamour; it is necessities of life; some people don’t have much to look forward to. But man, a Christmas is a gift to turn everything around for some people.”

Picture provided by Major Nathan Johnson

Southbrook Villa Senior Living service coordinator Stacey Mason wants to help her senior community in any way she can, understanding that the holidays can be a challenging time for them.

 “I wanted to pull off a big Christmas party because the last three years have just sucked,” said Mason. “This has been a very bad time for them; a couple of them even lost their children this year unexpectedly, so I knew it’s been a tough year for them and just wanted to throw a Christmas party for them to be happy.”

None of this can happen without the outpouring of community outreach wanting to help and assist others in need; communication is the first step for Ainsworth, who is sponsoring about 233 people this Christmas season. 

“The biggest thing is trying to make sure that they are not getting help from duplicate community resources,” said Ainsworth. “It’s a lot of weeding through getting to the bottom of the picture. A lot of talking, a lot of emailing. I do a lot of checks with people to ensure they’re not on a list elsewhere. I probably got 1000s of messages through my spam and other folders or even phone calls or text messages.”

The Salvation Army has a registration form that people must submit to ask for assistance, but people who want to help must call 517- 853-3744. This year, over 6,000 children are getting toys.

“They all went online to register,” said Johnson. “There were public service announcements sent out in advance of that. There were announcements in our lobby from the people who came and saw us who needed our help. You know, during the year, they know when to sign up. And then volunteers can call our line and look to volunteer.”

Mason shared her call for help through multiple Facebook posts shared by family, friends, and strangers, but the most important aspect is the impact on the residents.“It can be a really lonely time, and it can be a time where they’re reflecting on some of the fun they had in the past,” said Mason. “Like when their children were younger, their family was closer, and they no longer have that. Some have families out of state that they can’t afford to travel to. These are very low-income people. And so, what I’m only hoping to do with this is to bring them a day of joy.”

The image provided by Stacey Mason shows an example of multiple gifts.

Below is five tips for low-income people to help them through the holiday season.

Everyone’s holiday should be merry and bright. According to a Statista study, on Christmas Day, 65% are excited about giving presents to loved ones, with 41% of respondents agreeing Christmas is a celebration of love for them.

“I like to think that everyone deserves something under the Christmas tree,” said Ainsworth. “With the way times have been since COVID and a lot of people being homeless or in the eviction process that has left many homeless, a lot of people cannot afford for their children. Some elderly cannot afford food, let alone the roof over their head.”

From a social worker perspective, Mason wants to do everything she can to make her residents feel appreciated. 

“I think they see everybody else having a great time,” said Mason. “They have had these times in their past a lot; we have people in our buildings that are totally alone. Totally alone and they see, you know, all the commercials that are very sentimental. They see other people in the building getting to leave and go visit their families. And they get to do nothing like that; it feels completely unfair. It just aggravates their sadness that they might already have; if we can do anything to alleviate that, then why not?” Johnson believes the gifts received during Christmas may be a lasting memory for years.

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