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A Gift that Grew


WILLIAMSBURG, Ky. — Two University of the Cumberlands students recently learned that generosity is contagious, especially at Christmastime. When Megan Howard and Staci Roth first decided to take a slip of paper from the Christmas tree in the lobby of the dining hall and buy a gift for a homeless person at the Emergency Christian Ministries Shelter in Williamsburg, they had no idea where that decision would take them.

The tree was a project sponsored by the campus Global Awareness Program (GAP). The two young women chose to buy a gift for a baby, and they planned to purchase a diaper bag to fill with needed items. However, after talking with GAP’s sponsor, Gina Bowlin, chair of the Department of Human Services and Criminal Justice, Howard and Roth discovered that the child in need was not an infant but a young toddler, and that there were actually three toddlers as well as three older children, including one child’s mother, who was only 17 herself. The children were members of three families currently staying at the shelter. The young women then realized two things: that they could not limit their efforts to helping just one child and that that they needed help with their project.


The gifts filled a minivan.

Because both students work in the Sports-Information Office, they started there and recruited two more students, Jared Stafford, a junior from Morehead, and Hae In Cha, a sophomore, from Uruguay, the daughter of missionaries from Korea. Most of the Sports Information staff members helped with the project in some way, either by giving or requesting donations, helping to shop or by laundering, wrapping, loading or delivering gifts.

The students began by asking the coaches for donations, and after every coach made a contribution, they moved on to other campus offices with a bag, collecting donations from faculty and staff members. “I knew we were on to something big when the bag became so heavy it hurt my wrists,” said Howard. Roth said she recognized the project’s importance when people started putting larger bills, tens and twenties, into the bag. The final amount raised was more than $300 with more than $100 in coins.

After meeting the families and assessing their needs, the students contacted Marc Hensley, director of the University’s Mountain Outreach (MO), who opened the organization’s Distribution Center for the students, who filled 6 garbage bags with gently-used clothing, shoes and personal items. Since most of the families were from California, the greatest need was for shoes, coats and warm clothing.

The students went shopping for items that were unavailable through MO. They shopped at Goodwill, General Dollar and Wal-Mart until they found everything. Thinking their purchases equaled their remaining funds, at Wal-Mart’s checkout, they discovered they were a bit short. One girl said, “We can put back the diapers.” But, another shopper in line behind them realized what they were doing, and said, “I’ll pay for the diapers.”

They washed all the used clothing items at the Laundromat and then wrapped the gifts. Every person received a big, wrapped box filled with needed items. The children also received some toys. When the students made their delivery to the shelter, the gifts completely filled a mini-van.

The families were amazed that someone would do so much for them, and they seemed rather overwhelmed by it all, but also very grateful.

Howard said, “It really turned out to be so much bigger than we thought.” Roth agreed, and added, “The best part was meeting the families and getting to know them.”

Although classes had finished for the semester, these students learned a great lesson. Like the little boy who allowed Jesus to use his lunch of loaves and fishes to feed thousands, they discovered that in God’s hands, one small gift can grow to make a difference in the lives of many individuals, not least of whom are those who give the gifts.

Howard is a senior from Williamsburg with a major in public health. Roth, from Marietta, Ga., is a senior pursuing a double major in religion and human services. Both attend Main Street Baptist Church in Williamsburg.

Members of the Cumberlands Sports Information staff who helped make Christmas special for three homeless families are from left to right, first row: Staci Roth, Lauren Knight, Megan Howard, Megan Williamson and Katie Akins; middle row: Brandon Hensley, Lacy Walters, Natalie Medders, Jennifer Floyd, Hae In Cha, Ashley Shannon and PJ Martinez Back row: Malachi Maurer, Jared Stafford, Kevin Sanchez, Ken Prophette, Steffan Crowe and Stephanie Florence.