Local News

December 25, 2013

‘This is what Christmas should be’

Rhonda Coram said she didn’t know what she would have done without the Christmas program provided through Providence Ministries.

She only recently obtained custody of 5-year-old grandson, Aiden, and she wanted to make his Christmas memorable. Since she relies only on her Social Security check for income, she began looking weeks ago for ways to supplement what she could give him.

One day last month while getting some clothes for Aiden from Providence Ministries, Coram was invited to bring him back on Christmas Day. Wearing a Spider-Man ski cap and looking around excitedly, Aiden picked out his toys before the pair shuttled off outside. Coram carried his boxed meal in her arms.

“He was so excited he couldn’t eat it in there,” she said, gesturing toward the dining area.

Coram and Aiden were among about 4,000 people who came through the lines at Providence on Christmas, some of them lining up as early as 6 a.m. Providence provides a number of community services including substance abuse recovery programs, a homeless shelter, daily meals for anyone who needs them and a thrift store. The Christian ministry has locations in several nearby Northwest Georgia and Southeast Tennessee towns.

There were more than 100 volunteers who helped make the Christmas Day celebration possible at the Dalton location on Hamilton Street, said Providence founder and president Roy Johnson Sr. Some might think of the decision as “giving up” part of their Christmas.

Not the Schwartz family. They see it as fulfilling Christmas, expanding it, living out what Christmas is really all about.

Kevin Schwartz can’t remember exactly when he started. It was somewhere around nine or 10 years ago, he said, at a time when he had recently learned more about Providence Ministries’ many services to area residents. The Dalton-based ministry has long served free Christmas and Thanksgiving meals to anyone who comes through the doors on those days, and the Schwartz family — Kevin plus any others who are able to join him — have enjoyed spending their late morning and early afternoon hours helping distribute food and toys.

“The whole spirit of the Christmas season is about giving, and after the first few years even my kids were hooked,” he said. “You’d think that when your boys turn into teenagers this kind of thing wouldn’t hold their interest anymore, but they look forward to coming. They’re excited about being here and we enjoy being able to be a part of this.”

Aaron Schwartz, 24, said when his father first introduced the idea he was about 15 years old and was a little skeptical at first.

“We (had) always just kind of stayed at the house as a family for Christmas, but one year dad got the idea to come and help out here at Providence and kind of share our Christmas with people that needed it,” he said. “At first, I wasn’t really sure, but then I came and helped and you see all these smiling faces, and it’s just great. The kids light up when you give them presents and everybody really appreciates the food because a lot of them don’t have the means to make a Christmas dinner happen with their family so they’re able to have a nice Christmas dinner with us.”

Younger brother Eli, who graduated from Northwest Whitfield High School this year, said he joined the family tradition three or four years ago. Kevin, Aaron and Eli all work in local Dominos Pizza franchises Kevin owns, and they’re able to put their restaurant management skills to work serving the large crowds.

Eli said he had watched his dad, Aaron and another older brother volunteer for several years and decided to join in himself. This year, the family ate breakfast together and passed out stockings, then they headed over to Providence. Eli said he enjoys being able to make other people happy.

“I think if anything, this is what Christmas should be,” he said.

Each of the Schwartzes said they especially enjoy seeing children get excited about their toys. There were a lot of smiles on the faces of Areli Chavez’s five children.

Chavez, a single mother who works at a local carpet mill, said she saw a sign inviting people to come and decided to bring her young ones. They celebrated the holiday on Christmas Eve, which was a tradition they brought from Mexico, by cooking a big dinner, but the children were happy to come to Providence and get to pick out toys, she said.

“Every year we come here,” she said.

Chavez said she was very thankful and wished everyone a Merry Christmas.

For more information on Providence or to donate, visit www.providenceministriesinc.com.

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