Unexpected Gift Connects Two United Church of Christ Health and Human Service Ministries Through Love of Neighbor, Love of Children

Sometimes the best Christmas present arrives in the form of a small gift from the heart. For two United Church of Christ-related partners, such gifts also exemplify God’s call to love one another, and neighbor as self.

When Donna Smith-Pupillo, executive director of Deaconess Nursing Ministry in St. Louis, visited a developmentally-disabled woman in November — a regular donor to Deaconess who also has received services in the past — she was met with an unexpected request.

“The woman, who lives with her elderly parents, wanted me to see if I could find a family with children that I could give presents and food to,” says Pupillo. “She had collected $240 during the year for that purpose.”

The donor has a long tradition of “giving Christmas” to a family in need. Prior to this year, a friend of the woman had secured a family for the donation. The friend had died, so the woman wanted to continue the tradition, this time in her friend’s memory.

Smith-Pupillo promised she would find a family. Just a few weeks later, during a visit to Uni-Pres Kindercottage, she did.

Uni-Pres is a joint United Church of Christ/Presbyterian Church USA inclusionary child development center for children and families in East St. Louis, Ill. While meeting with Brenda Crisp, Uni-Pres’ executive director, Smith-Pupillo asked her “if she had a family that could use the money for Christmas.”

As tears welled up in Crisp’s eyes, she told Smith-Pupillo of a family of six children — ranging in age from 15 down to 2-year-old twins — cared for by the center. Only days earlier, after a seemingly innocuous bout with puffy eyes, one of the twins suddenly spiked a fever and was rushed to the hospital, where she had a seizure and two cardiopulmonary attacks. During the days that followed, numerous machines helped keep the young girl alive while the hospital ran a battery of tests. Slowly, the young girl’s condition improved.

As the girl recovered, doctors determined that there was “no problem with her brain or heart,” Smith-Pupillo said, and that the illness had been caused by the flu. Although it appears that the young girl will be home by Christmas, “prayers for the family are still needed,” she added, as the mom lost a lot of work during her daughter’s illness.

The center already had started collecting funds to help the family at Christmas, but more was needed. The donor’s $240 was a perfect addition. Everyone is “so grateful that Deaconess gave them the money so this family can have a better Christmas,” said Smith-Pupillo.

Thanks to the donor, and the rest of the funds raised, the family will have a complete Christmas meal. Additionally, says Crisp, “each child will have an outfit — shoes, socks, hats and gloves.” The younger children will receive at least three additional educational and “especially fun” gifts to enjoy, while the two older children will get a tablet. The mother will get a $50 gas card, plus any money left over for “whatever she needs to do for herself or the house.”

During this season that celebrates the birth of renewed hope for all humankind, small acts born of a love of neighbor and love of children have brought the Christmas spirit to life at Deaconess and UniPres Kindercottage.

Deaconess Nurse Ministry and Uni-Pres are CHHSM-member ministries. The two have had a local partnership for the past three years.

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