Franklin — Just four days before Santa was scheduled to slide down the chimney with presents, children at Christ-St. Peter Lutheran School delivered 140 bags of gifts door-to-door in the city of Milwaukee.
On. Dec. 21, the students, along with volunteers from Victory of the Lamb church in Franklin, filled bags with enough food for a full meal, toys for kids, and holiday cheer to give to their neighbors as a part of what the church calls "The Christmas Project."
Each year, the church raises around $2,500 to $3,000 to buy items like coloring books, fresh food, and toothbrushes to go inside the gift bags, which are then given to residents of Milwaukee who may be struggling during the holiday season.
Handing out bags of blessings
"Christ St Peter wants to be a solution and be a blessing to our neighbors," said Paul Berger, Mission Advancement Director for the school. "Most of our children do come from the neighborhood, and they want to be a blessing to their neighbors."
This year, students in third through eighth grade formed an assembly line in the gym Wednesday morning to fill their bags with gifts of food and fun. In the end, each student had a full bag to give, for a total of around 140 gift bags.
Afterward, the students and volunteers from the church knocked on doors around 23rd St. and Greenfield Ave, hoping to find someone at home to give a bag of blessings to.
The joy of giving
"It's really been a beautiful thing to see their reactions," said Ben Kuerth, pastor of Victory of the Lamb, who walks door to door with the students every year. "At first, they (the residents) are not sure why they (the students) are there at first, but then they see it's a bunch of kids and that we're not here to ask anything, but to give something to them."
Last year, Kuerth said one woman came out of her house and walked all the way down the block just to meet up with the group and tell them thank you, after she had seen what was all inside the bag.
"That small, little token would mean so much, that there are people who care," Kuerth said.
Even though some of the students who give out the gifts aren't in much of a different situation themselves, both Kuerth and Berger said that they thoroughly enjoy giving.
"I'm not in the classroom myself, but I know they are excited when they come to actually give something," Berger said. "It's not from their own means, but they do have the joy of giving."
Even the younger kids, who are just starting out in the tradition, love the experience, Kuerth says. Though they are sometimes nervous, at first, to knock on doors and climb up steps to ring someone's doorbell, they quickly "overcome their fears" and by the end are excited and smiling.
From the suburbs to the city
Even though the church is located in the suburbs, Kuerth said the people there "had a heart for the people in the city," and wanted to show that in a tangible way. Around five years ago, Victory of the Lamb started looking for a way to give to those who live in certain areas of Milwaukee.
Through the church's program "Operation Jesus Cares," the church began reaching out to Christ St. Peter school, hoping to give to the students some way.
However, the idea evolved from helping the kids in the school—many of whom Kuerth says are in low-income or immigrant families—into giving the students an opportunity to experience the joy of giving themselves.
Through fundraising efforts in the church, Victory of the Lamb decided to give the students the means to bless their neighbors. Thus, The Christmas Project was born, and it has been going strong ever since.
"We're helping them to give and love the community, and show God's love to their neighbors," Kuerth said. "It's one little way we can help shine some light into their lives."