ST. PETERSBURG – The 7th Annual Toys for Tots Christmas Celebration was a huge hit this holiday season. Families and friends gathered at Glad Tidings Assembly of God, located at 4200 17th Ave. N., to not only receive gifts, but to reconnect with the real reason for the season – Jesus.
Princess Denise Wright’s Matters of the Heart Radio and Connecting Point Ministry hosted the event. For 10 years, Wright’s nonprofit has striven to bring the word of God to those who may have forgotten his presence in their lives.
Raising three children as a single parent, she is no stranger to the hardships that many families are up against, especially in the current economic climate.
“Many times I didn’t have food in the refrigerator, lights were off, water was off, car broke down, getting evicted,” she said.
But while at church some three decades ago, a fellow parishioner approached her confessing to having turned in her name as a recipient for a food basket. “I remember that,” Wright said. In fact it is this very type of act of kindness that has fueled her all these years to keep giving back. “Somebody was always thinking of me, they knew I needed help.”
Although it’s been a long time since Wright needed assistance herself, each year she gives back, this year helping more than 25 families to have a Merry Christmas. Bags filled with toys and gift cards were handed out by students at St. Petersburg College to the families in attendance. Those that couldn’t make it had theirs hand delivered at a later time.
Before the giveaway though, motivational speaker Corey Thornton loosened up the event with some hip-hop music of his own making. The catchy beat of “I love Jesus” echoed throughout the fellowship hall with Thornton announcing each family would receive a copy.
Inspired by his faith in the Lord, Thornton wants others to remember that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” and forget about jumping into the commercial nature of Christmas and instead to pay respect to Jesus and the real reason for the holiday.
“God will take care of you all and whatever need you are lacking in your life,” said Thornton who believes those who truly give themselves to the Holy Spirit will be taken care of when they need it the most. “As long as you keep your eyes on him, no matter what’s going on you will be covered.”
Wright’s daughter, Cheryl Parker Smith, was mistress of ceremonies and wholeheartedly agreed. Part of the school system, Smith believes anything that needs to be done to reach today’s youth should be top priority. That includes spreading the word of God.
“Christmas isn’t just another holiday,” she said pointing out that during this time of the year people tend to give more. She cautioned that focusing on receiving gifts takes away from its true meaning. “It’s not all about the presents; it’s about giving of yourself and families coming together.”
The program continued with those in attendance stepping up to the microphone to share why “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Timid at first, women spoke of their love for the Lord. Sherese Walls, who Wright joked was a “young minister in the making” had no trouble with her words. The mother of five thanked God that she could just see another day and enjoy time with her family and friends around.
“It’s just about being able to know that you’re blessed,” said Walls who was having a great time listening to the inspirational music and participating in the share out. “When you feel all alone, like no one is on your side, God is right there,” continued Walls who emphasized He may not come when we want, but he’s always on time.
Wright encouraged others to stop and listen to God’s message, to find that something they were destined to do or become. “Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to make that connection to find out what they should be doing,” she said.
Families in need of help were found through word of mouth, announcements on her radio show that airs on WRXB and social workers referring their clients to Wright.
“Sometimes they will send me messages through email saying, ‘I know a family, I know somebody who’s having a hard time, would you be able to help them,’” Wright said. She turns down no one.
Her nonprofit holds four events each year. Just a few short weeks ago 118 families were blessed with food baskets and gift cards. About 300 individuals were also treated to a Thanksgiving dinner.
Sponsorship from local businesses are always needed to pull off the events that Wright holds. For the Thanksgiving dinner small businesses such as the St. Pete Meat House and Coquina Key Meat donated food, while Wal-Mart and Publix donated gift cards.
“They’re used to us asking for this or that,” Wright said of the 30 or so businesses that gave this holiday season, “and they always say, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll help you.’”
If in need of inspiration, motivation, or just to hear the word of God, check out Matter of the Heart Radio Ministry every third and fourth Saturday from 1 – 1:30 p.m. You can also view a live internet streaming by logging on to www.wrxb.us or www.mattersoftheheartministry.org.