HOW TO HELP
To donate or sign up for the Renaissance Presbyterian Church Christmas gift program call Phyllis Thomas at 423-624-0724 or Gloria Griffith at 423-756-1981. Call by Nov. 16.
Renaissance Presbyterian Church's 38 members are planning to give Christmas gifts to more than 100 children.
"I've seen small churches do amazing things," said the Rev. Leroy Griffith, who serves at the church, located in the center of eight low-income Westside housing sites.
Students from Calvin Donaldson Elementary, Battle Academy and Newton Child Development Center will receive clothes and food donated by the church through its Christmas stocking ministry.
"Being a priest doesn't mean just praying for people," Griffith said. "We want to help meet their needs."
Renaissance is among dozens of congregations banding together to help people during the holiday season.
New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church works with Toys for Tots to provide at least 300 families with Christmas gifts. And Battlefield Ministry Community Church in Fort Oglethorpe will give bicycles to a dozen children who live in a local women's shelter.
Griffith said he brought the idea of providing Christmas to families to Renaissance in 2004 after he saw it done in Cincinnati.
The Ohio congregation of 80 people provided Christmas presents, clothes and dinner for 16 families, he said, and doubled the number of recipients the second year. By the time Griffith left seven years later, the congregation, which hadn't grown, provided Christmas for 130 families, he said.
This year, Renaissance expects to give toys, clothes and food to at least 120 children, he said. The church formed a partnership with five other Presbyterian congregations -- Rivermont, Trinity, New Hope, Northside and Northminster Presbyterian.
Marilyn Suber and Elizabeth Savard are among the women from Rivermont Presbyterian Church who came to Renaissance this month to start planning Christmas for the families. Christmas stocking ministry organizers also mailed letters requesting help from area businesses.
Phyllis Thomas, 51, who uses a wheelchair because of a neurological disorder, heads the event. She can't walk and leans to one side when she sits, but the retired city of Chattanooga human services case manager doesn't allow her disability to prevent her from helping others.
"If I can get more people to feel what we feel when we do what we do, then I've done what I'm supposed to do," Thomas said.
A great-great-grandmother said the church is providing gifts for children who would not have as many toys otherwise.
"I've had two knee replacements. Their mama isn't working, their grandmama isn't working and my great-great-grandchildren are depending on me," said Margaret Ann Vinson, 59, who cares for her five great-great-grandchildren, ages 1 through 6. "Christmas would be slow without [Renaissance Church]."