Christmas: all about the presence

By Katie Maze

As the holidays approach, on-campus organizations aren’t wasting any time preparing a joyful holiday experience for the less fortunate.

The Spanish Club held its second annual Salsa Night to collect items and spread awareness for Operation Christmas Child, a project created by Samaritan’s Purse to send shoe boxes filled with toys, school supplies and necessities for children in impoverished countries around the world.

“We created this event to share the culture with a salsa class. It ended up being a mixture of cultural awareness, gathering toys and, of course, having fun,” said Director for the Spanish club Dr. Rubi Ugofsky-Mendez as she stood in the middle of the whirling crowd inside Shelton Theater.  “Just to make sure we contribute to somebody’s Christmas is thrilling.”

Coincidentally, the same day, Nov. 1, was a prominent Mexican holiday, Dia de Los Muertos, celebrated by remembering deceased loved ones through food, dancing and altars designed to remember them. This year’s patron was Elvis.

Senior Miranda Shorter, left, and freshman Carmen Maciel pack and wrap shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. Photo by Katie Maze.

“We needed someone dead,” said Vice President Mariana Jauregui. “The altar is something that people do to honor the dead. They can put pictures or anything that reminds them of their relatives.  We used Elvis as an example with his pictures because, well, who doesn’t know and love Elvis?”

The energy, laughter and mutual embarrassment shared by those who were brave enough to participate in the dance lesson created a friendly atmosphere for the task at hand.

Ugofsky-Mendez said this year is her first time to be involved with the operation, although the club has a startling 15-year run with OCC.

“We couldn’t do it without the support of the department,” she said. “They are so supportive and busy doing whatever needs to be done. I have a feeling this year will be a great success.”

The Spanish Club, however, is not alone in its efforts. For the past three years, the women’s basketball team has packed and distributed boxes to local collection sites

in Belton. This year, Head Coach Kim Kirkpatrick-Thorton said the team wanted to involve the rest of the school.

“I love the simplicity of what you can do to provide for and meet the needs for ‘the least of these.’ It’s not just a chance for a community service project for us, but it’s a chance to reach out a little bit beyond the borders we could normally reach.”

Kirkpatrick-Thorton explained that this time of year is an important experience and highlight for team members to bond with each other off the basketball court.

“It gives them a chance to get to know each other on a personal level and to help those in need.”

She understands how tightly stretched a college student’s budget can be but wants them to be assured they can contribute  with whatever they have, even if it’s just time.

“At $7 a shoe box, it’s possible for every student to help out and to enjoy the occasion. Our goal is to try and give more kids more opportunity to experience a little Christmas joy and a chance to hear about the Lord.”

Senior interdisciplinary studies major Miranda Shorter has participated in the event throughout the four years of her college and basketball career but said this year is even more exciting because several organizations on campus are contributing to the effort.

Junior exercise and sport science major Brittany Stai and junior communication and Spanish major Spencer Turner practice salsa dancing. Photo by Katie Maze.

“It’s coincidental that so many are pitching in, but it’s actually a really good thing for all the kids who don’t get all that stuff for Christmas and knowing that the whole community of UMHB is willing to help with that is amazing.”

Shorter described the project as a personal way to get closer to one another.

“A lot of our teammates enjoy it because we get in pairs and go shopping together. It’s fun to maybe go shopping for the things we need with a freshman that I’m not really that close with. It’s a huge bonding experience that we all enjoy.”

Freshman graphic design major Carmen Maciel said she and her family became involved with the operation through her home church in Waco five years ago, and, over time, their heart for giving through Operation Christmas Child has grown immeasurably.

“I love that I can give Christmas to kids who are not as blessed as I am,” Maciel said as she explained her passion for spreading the word of Christ to the ends of the earth.  “It’s a great way to serve the Lord and make kids happy.”

Maciel hopes this year students will be ready to serve the Lord and learn Christmas isn’t all about getting. It’s also about giving selflessly and generously to God’s children.

“Giving is a part of God’s plan,” Kirkpatrick-Thorton said as she explained his call to help children from a well-known verse in the gospel. “Mark 9:37 says ‘whoever welcomes children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’”

 

Author: The Bells Staff

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