Christmas Shopping Experience for Special Needs Children
By Lindsay Peyton
Even though the sun is still shining and the heat index is high in Texas, it’s always Christmas at FUMC Center. The church works year-round to prepare for Lucretia’s Christmas Wish – a day each year when it opens its doors for special needs students from across the county.
“Besides baptizing babies, it’s my happiest day of the year,” Rev. Karen Jones said.
This year, the church will host Lucretia’s Christmas Wish at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 11.
Church member Mary Lynn Tinkle has organized the event, along with Ann Grant and Cindy Griffin, for the past 15 years.
Tinkle explained that she was on the school board when Lucretia Bussey was a teacher in her district. Bussey was also a church member and a Sunday School teacher with a heart for helping others.
“She was just the type of person who took every opportunity to serve,” Tinkle recalled. “And she had a way of making everyone feel special.”
Bussey taught special needs students – and wanted to offer a lesson about the gift of giving. She turned her classroom into a shop, letting the students pick out items for their parents and grandparents, knowing that most of them would not otherwise have an opportunity to get gifts for their caregivers at all.
When Tinkle discovered what Bussey was doing, she brought it to the church’s attention, asking if they could expand on the effort and make it countywide. Now, all five school districts in the area come to the church for Lucretia’s Christmas Wish.
“Lucretia was so humbled,” Tinkle recalled. “We made her the hostess, and she would stand by the door and greet the kids.”
When Bussey passed away about 10 years ago, FUMC Center committed to continue serving children with special needs.
“We continue this in her honor,” Tinkle said.
The church has a closet where it stores donations for the event throughout the year. Some members make blankets, while others buy a little extra while shopping. Others, like Jay Teske, purchase a range of items online for Lucretia’s Christmas Wish.
The church buys Christmas bags, and volunteers provide the wrapping. Thanks to the donations, the event costs the church almost nothing. The special needs students never pay to shop.
Pastor Jones entertains the students when they are finished shopping with songs and games. She encourages the community to join in the fun and lead the children in song or help wrap gifts. They can also serve as greeters during the event.
A special table is set up for the students’ teachers and aides so they may also pick out a gift for themselves.
The students all leave with a huge smile, Jones added. “And that lets me know that we’ve accomplished what Lucretia would have wanted,” she said. “All of these students are thrilled, and it’s great fun. It was all because of this one lady’s vision.”
The students aren’t the only ones who learn about giving during the event, Jones said. “All of the adults get to reimagine it as well,” she said.
And Lucretia’s Christmas Wish helps everyone get in the spirit of the season.
Hosting the event is a true blessing for the church, Tinkle added.
“We’re really the ones who receive,” she said. “It’s a mission we get to do. It brings all of us together, and it brings life to the church.”