Religious groups embrace spirit of season

As the holiday season approaches, religious organizations are planning holiday gift donations for less fortunate children of Champaign-Urbana.

Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel, executive director for the Chabad Center, said the center hosts an annual ball during Hanukkah, where people can come together to celebrate the holiday with bowling and music. This year, students and members will bring in small toys and gifts of around $5 to give to ill children in local hospitals. This will be the second time the Chabad Center will do a gift donation in the six years the Hanukkah Ball has been held.

“We’ve given cards before, and this year with the gift donations, we’re really trying to do a different thing each year,” Tiechtel said. “But I always try to tell my students that it’s not the size of the gift you get, but the thought behind it.”

Tiechtel said the Jewish pillar of “tzedakah,” Hebrew for charity, is a motive behind the Hanukkah Ball’s gift donation project this year.

“Firstly, the society at large is very big about giving back to the community,” Tiechtel said. “In Judaism, it is also stressed very much to be self-righteous and charitable.”

Service and Justice Outreach, a registered student organization connected to Saint John’s Catholic Newman Center, also sponsors a gift donation program for Christmas. The program is working to provide gifts to 22 Champaign-Urbana children in need and nearly 50 children from Latino ministries whose families are economically disadvantaged. Sister Janice Keenan, organizer of the holiday gift donation project, said about 75 gifts are expected to be rolling in by next weekend.

“The students that take the gifts, wrap them and deliver them to the charity see just how much these gifts affect the children they go to,” Keenan said. “I think it’s overwhelming to see these gifts come pouring in and to think they are all going to children is amazing.”

Keenan said she recognizes there is a large selection of charities people could choose to donate to, but that in the end, it isn’t about which charity, but rather getting people to donate in general.

“We’re just a choice on people’s part,” Keenan said. “We’re not trying to compete with any one organization. We just want people to choose an organization to give to for the spirit of Christmas.”

Miriam Chenault, co-organizer of the Angel Tree Program, a holiday gift drive, said the First Presbyterian Church of Champaign is co-sponsoring the program with Best Interest of Kids, an organization that works to improve the lives of less fortunate children. It is the seventh year the church has sponsored the program, Chenault said, and it works to provide gifts to over 200 children.

“The group (Best Interest of Kids) works to give gifts to kids at risk, such as those kids that face trouble with the law or school. Sometimes it’s for kids in foster homes,” Chenault said. “The stories of the kids really inspire the people of the congregation to help and donate these gifts.”