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Springfield Church Blesses Local School Students and Staff with Christmas Gifts

For the past 17 years, a Springfield, Missouri, church has blessed local area schools with Christmas gifts. This year, all staff received a Christmas blessing, too.
Giving and receiving gifts at Christmas time is something many families take for granted. For others, though, difficult circumstances may keep families from enjoying this tradition and the feeling of love it brings, especially for children.

With help from the congregation and dedicated volunteers of Central Assembly of God, children in some of Springfield, Missouri’s most challenged neighborhoods enjoy a merrier Christmas each year.

During the 2006 Christmas season, the congregation and leadership at Central felt God was prompting the church to provide a new bicycle for each child at a nearby elementary school. The following year, the church reached out to another neighborhood school with the bicycle giveaway. Continuing into subsequent years, the church settled into a regular pattern of providing a gift for every student at both Boyd Elementary and Weaver Elementary, both located just a few blocks east and west of the church.

The program also includes Pipkin Middle School, located right across the street from the church’s North Boonville Avenue location near the Assemblies of God National Office. In 2023, each staff member at the schools also received a gift card.

The church starts the process in early November, coordinating with the schools for a list of students’ first names, gender, and grade. Members of the congregation take one or more names to purchase a gift, including extras in case students transfer into the schools after the final list is received shortly before the big day.

The gifts are collected at the front of the church and prayed over during Sunday services, culminating in a gift-wrapping party where volunteers personally wrap and tag the gifts. Given the range of interests and maturity levels of middle schoolers, those students receive a gift card. For 2023, 672 students and 175 staff members received gifts or gift cards.

The program is coordinated by Josh Seaman, who serves as family ministries pastor at Central. Seaman, 48, is no stranger to the challenges many Springfield families face, having spent 14 years as a counselor at Pipkin before joining the Central Assembly staff.

Many of the city’s north-side families struggle to make ends meet; high percentages qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch, and many are affected by substance abuse, incarceration, or other social challenges. In addition to the Christmas gifts, the church assists with school supplies in the fall. Some of the volunteers themselves enjoy giving back through the program as a way to thank God for bringing them through their own hard life circumstances.

“This time of year is so hard for so many of our kids,” says Pipkin Middle School Principal Duane Cox. “We absolutely are so fortunate to have Central as part of our school community family. Their generosity and commitment are inspiring and help us assure that students have what they need to be successful here at Pipkin.”

Cox tries to create a culture of caring and thinking of each other at the school, and he says the Christmas gift cards help facilitate that. One student, after receiving the gift card, said to him, “Mr. Cox, do you know what I’m going to do with this? I’m going to use it to get my little brother something for Christmas!”

“That showed me we are truly making an impact on our students,” says Cox, “but without the support of Central, it would be much more difficult to do.”

At the elementary schools, some students remember the gift distribution from previous years and can barely contain their excitement as they file into the gymnasium for the special assembly.

After the principal introduces the Central team, Josh Seaman’s school counseling experience comes in handy as he directs the children’s energy into games and singing while the volunteers pass out the gifts. He then gives the “3, 2, 1, go!” signal to unwrap them.

Even Central’s senior pastor, Jim Bradford, got in on the fun at Weaver Elementary, chatting with kids about their new Hot Wheels, action figures, or dress-up playsets as he helped gather up the sea of gift wrap and tissue.

“You guys have done such a really great thing for these kids,” exclaimed a teacher experiencing her first Christmas gift assembly since joining the staff this year.

She was also delighted with her own gift card; like many teachers, she often supplements her classroom supplies and decorating budget with personal funds and said the card was a nice boost.

Another teacher brushed away a tear as a little boy in her class happily played with a new toy truck. Just a few days earlier, he had told her he probably wouldn’t get anything for Christmas.

“These are wonderful presents,” exclaimed a third-grade boy, eyes shining as he gathered up a science experiment set. “Yes, thank you so much,” chimed in a nearby young girl, showing her kitchen playset to a volunteer. “My sister and I are going to have fun with this!”

Most of all, the Central team members pray that each gift will plant a seed of the love of Jesus to grow in each child’s heart. They hope the children and staff always remember that someone from a nearby church cares about them just like Jesus does.

Cynthia J Thomas

Cynthia J. Thomas worked for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions for six years before becoming primary caregiver for her father, a World War II veteran. She has served as a counselor for victims of domestic violence and women facing crisis pregnancies. Cindy and her husband, Phil, a schoolteacher, volunteer in youth outreach and have three adult children and one granddaughter.