This Christmas season, the children in the Dominican Republic town of Triple Ozama won't travel "over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house." Instead, they will race down a mountainside and over a dirt path to a distribution site. Once there, they will strain against a wire fence, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a truck filled with cardboard cartons of presents.
Just like any child on Christmas morning, they can barely contain their excitement as they wait for that wonderful moment when those huge cardboard boxes will be opened, revealing large piles of 2-gallon Ziploc bags that are filled to the brim with gifts of small toys, coloring books and crayons, articles of clothing, school supplies, and such. Once their names are called they will move forward in wide-eyed wonder to claim one of the coveted bags of treasures known as Angel Bags. After the distribution is complete, the children huddle with friends, opening their bags in hushed amazement at the colorful array before them.
Although the scene is a stark contrast to our visions of holiday family gatherings, their excitement is no less enthusiastic. Compared to the heaping piles of gifts so often found under our own sparkling Christmas trees, the gift bags might seem inadequate or even inconsequential, but for the children who have nothing, the bags of gifts are everything.
Top and bottom, scenes from an Angel Bag distribution in the Dominican Republic. In center, Linell Stabler, president of ACES (Advancing Communities through Education and Service), holds a Dominican child. The Angel Bag Ministry, born five years ago at Faith Wesleyan Church, 1033 Tucker St., was patterned after Operation Christmas Child.
The Angel Bag Ministry, born five years ago at Faith Wesleyan Church, 1033 Tucker St., was patterned after Operation Christmas Child shoe box ministry, which distributes Christmas gifts to children worldwide. Faith Wesleyan initially participated in Operation Christmas Child, but later teamed up with the ACES organization to focus specifically on children living in poverty stricken areas of the Dominican Republic.
ACES is an acronym for Advancing Communities through Education and Service. It is run by Christians who are working hard to improve the lives of others through education and a wide variety of service projects. The purpose of Angel Bag Ministry is to provide a day of Christmas joy to children who otherwise would go without.
Linell Stabler, of Cogan Station, president of ACES, reported that this year the organization is expanding its appeal beyond the walls of Faith Wesleyan to other local churches and community groups. "Last year there were 145 bags donated. This year's goal is to receive 250 bags, which will enable us to distribute to every child in the village of El Naranjito as well as in Triple Ozama. A gospel tract is enclosed in each bag, which tells the Christmas story. The tracts are in Spanish, and are very colorful with lots of pictures," Stabler said.
"We are able to demonstrate God's love through the giving of those gift bags and lots of hugs."
Mary Jane Baker is one of several people who were present at last year's Angel Bag distribution.
Baker recalls, "It was with a joyful heart, but with tears in my eyes, that I watched impoverished children open their bag of Christmas presents they'd received from kind, thoughtful people from the United States.
"For the first time I truly realized what a very small gesture this is for us, but what a tremendous impact it has on children who have so very little."
The 2013 Angel Bag project officially kicks off Sunday and will run through the end of the month.
For those who do not enjoy or have time to go shopping, monetary donations will be accepted.
"There are groups of college students who will be happy to do the shopping and assemble those gift bags for you," Stabler said.
Additional information and a list of gift suggestions may be found online at acesnorthamerica.org, and faithwesleyanchurch.com. Donations should be made payable to ACES and mailed to ACES North America; 613 Cemetery St., Williamsport, PA 17701.