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December 22, 2015 • Headline News
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‘Better to give than to receive’

Milan community opens heart to help others

Mary Mattingly

“Remember the words of the Lord Jesus. It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35, Paul to the Ephesians.

For over 100 Milan families, Christmas comes in a brown grocery bag, a couple of wrapped boxes, a turkey or a ham. The heart of the community lies inside, all in the guise of a box of spaghetti, a can of chicken noodle soup, or a new Batman figure or child’s coat. At this special time of year, several secular and non-secular community organizations throughout the county show their care and love by helping those in need. The Milan Council of Churches is one of those.

Milan Council of Churches
Linda Baurley, Ed Johnson, Carly Langferman, Rev. Harris Long and Appie Thompson were some of the elves working to make sure Milan families will all have something for Christmas.

For nearly 40 years, the Milan community has made sure their little Johnny and Susie have something under the tree on Dec. 25. It all started when the Ladies Guild at St. Charles Catholic Church were approached by Appie Thompson, Milan’s school nurse. They were asked if they might want to help three needy families for Christmas. It snowballed from there. This past Saturday, Christmas wrapped boxes and turkeys and hams were delivered to 106 needy families in Milan.

Appie Thompson, along with retired teachers Linda Baurley and Donna Barton help coordinate the Christmas project for the Milan Council of Churches, also called the Community Emergency Relief Fund. Local churches consisting of Milan United Methodist, St. Paul Lutheran, Milan Baptist, Hope Baptist, Milan Christian, Wesleyan, Pierceville Methodist and St. Charles participate in some way. Not only do they give and take up collections for the weeks leading up to Christmas but they create a list of names of those who may need a little boost, a little help, an extra blessing. A small community like Milan tends to know who is down on their luck or in need. Maybe there was a medical issue, a lost job, unexpected bills…it doesn’t really matter

“Some of these people will even work with us, wrapping presents, filling grocery bags or sorting names. They may just be hitting a rough spot in life,” Thompson explained. They’ve even had those on the receiving end return the following year to donate or help, grateful for the blessing they received when in need. There are no names on the gift tags, just numbers, so those working won’t see if it’s their neighbor, co-worker or school friend. “We don’t want to embarrass anyone,” Thompson said, but at the same time they don’t want anyone to feel unloved at this special time of year either.

Elves in action

In the middle of sorting goods to put in each family’s grocery bag at St. Paul Lutheran Church’s fellowship hall last Wednesday evening, Linda Baurley stops and muses over the generosity and spirit of the community. “The community is so good,” she says, and chokes up. “It just comes in.” And so it does. Each child on the list will get $30 worth of new clothes and $30 of new toys.

The churches can handle providing for half of those on the list, and the others are adopted by people in the community. It might be a Milan teacher, who hands over $120 so two children will have Christmas, or a school or community organization that adopts several families. Thompson said she sent out an email to the school in need of 30 kids to be adopted, and within two days, it was taken care of by staff and clubs. And several “blessed” business leaders in the community give thousands of dollars, Baurley noted, grateful for their support.

A lot of work goes into giving, from Ed Johnson, “the lead reindeer,” who figures out the best routes for deliveries, to senior elf Donna Barton, who calls the families on the list, getting sizes and needs, arranging pickup and deliveries. They also have year-round shoppers. “We have the best shoppers! They can find deals and make our dollars stretch,” Baurley exclaimed.

Schoolchildren also show their benevolent nature. They may put in loose change in jars on teachers’ desks or contribute to fundraisers throughout the year. In the front lobby of Milan High School last week, two dozen bikes sat under the tree with bows. Another pickup truck of bikes was unloaded that day. “It’s pretty impressive to see,” commented Ryan Langferman, high school principal, proud of his staff and students.

The night before a pizza party was held while a group, under the direction of Andy Gutzwiller of Batesville, put on new handgrips, pedals or seats, whatever was needed to make the bike operational and appealing. New bike helmets donated by Margaret Mary Health are attached to each bike. On Wednesday, Milan basketball players moved the food and gifts collected from churches to St. Paul hall. Art and German clubs, National Honor Society (canned good collection) Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Battle of the Bands proceeds, and all types of school groups, will donate or help in some way. “A lot of school kids on the list come and help. They know they’ll be receiving it, but they don’t say anything and work alongside others,” Thompson noted. One night last week several teens and adults stood shoulder deep in stacks of presents they had finished wrapping at the church hall. Carly Langferman, a nurse, was helping fill grocery bags that were lined on five long rows of tables. Her three boys, age 9, 7 and 5, had also been in to help. “It’s important because we are so blessed. I want my kids to see that.” And, just like Santa, they deliver no matter what the weather conditions. Rev. Harris Long, president of the council, recalls one very snowy and treacherous Christmas time, the Milan volunteer fire department made the deliveries to the rural homes. Local businesses do what they can. For example, several thousand dollars worth of turkeys and hams are bought from the local JayC store, and they work with them on other food discounts.

For Thompson, this is her Christmas. “I think of all these kids… and I hope the clothes fit and they like their toys. And I thank God for all those who helped. It takes a whole community. It really does.” And there you have it. The heart of the community spills into grocery bags and boxes at Christmas time.

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