MC Family Shares Christ’s Love During Holiday Season Through Wingard Dinner, Angel Tree, Mustard Seed Donations
Cameron Huey is looking forward to what she considers one of the most meaningful moments of this year’s Christmas season.
Last year, the Master’s in Fine Arts student from Florence took candid photos of children visiting with Santa Claus during the Wingard Home Dinner at Mississippi College, an evening of holiday food, fellowship, and Christian witness for residents of the Wingard Home, an oasis for abandoned, lost, hurting, and abused people in Jackson.
Sponsored by the Department of Art, the Kappa Pi Art Honor Society, and Campus Dining at MC, the event includes a warm, nourishing meal served on tables adorned with white tablecloths and poinsettias, devotional time with families, and an appearance by the “Jolly Old Elf,” who distributes gifts and poses for pictures with children of all ages.
As president of Kappa Pi this year, Huey will serve as a hostess for the dinner, scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 7, in Anderson Hall East in the B.C. Rogers Student Center. That’s when she anticipates the real magic of the holiday season will occur.
“I volunteered for the dinner because I heard about all of the ways Wingard House supports people and families,” Huey said. “This year, I will be welcoming the families and getting the names of each child to relay to Santa.
“I’m excited to see the children’s faces light up when they see Santa and when they receive their gifts. I enjoy getting to know the Wingard Home families during the dinner, talking with them, meeting the kids, and watching them play and eat.”
Randy Jolly, instructor in the Department of Art and director of the Gore Galleries, coordinates the Wingard Home dinner each year. He said it would be impossible to put a price tag on the experience of watching the youngsters interact with Santa.
“Our student helpers talk with the families before the event and try to learn as many of the children’s names as possible,” Jolly said. “Then those students help Santa with his bags and ‘feed’ that information to him.
“The small children’s eyes get as big as saucers when Santa calls them by name and invites them to climb onto his lap and talk with him. That’s a great start to my Christmas season.”
The Wingard Home strives to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ by ministering to individuals and families in need. The ministry provides accommodations for more than 60 unhoused men, women, children, pregnant teenagers, and entire families living in dire need or having been displaced or abandoned.
Founded in 1990 by Charlotte and Roy Wingard after the couple moved to Jackson from Atlanta, where they had once been unhoused themselves, the home provides clothing, transportation, and job, medical, and social-service referrals. The ministry relies on donations to cover utility bills and other costs to remain open.
Jolly said the Wingards consider the annual dinner to be a highlight of the Christmas season for residents of the home.
“We usually feed about 40 people,” he said. “MC students serve the families as the waiters and staff. A group of ladies from the Byram and Terry area donate a handmade quilt for each mother, and each child receives a blanket and a stuffed animal.
“I love to see our students share their experiences with Christ with these families who have fallen on hard times. We try to make things a little more bearable for these families. When we do the devotionals, they watch and listen attentively. It reminds me of when I was growing up, sitting with my parents, my four siblings, and some of the neighbor kids and doing this kind of thing. It’s a fond memory for me.”
Jolly inherited the Wingard Home Dinner hosting duties from Michael Hataway, an immensely talented artist and a longtime Kappa Pi sponsor and graphic arts teacher at MC whose mother-in-law provided teddy bears for the children. When Jolly joined the Department of Art faculty, he was asked to co-sponsor the dinner.
“Our students learn much from the event,” Jolly said. “We try to provide some of the things that make the holiday special. During the devotional, we talk about Christ and what He can do for them. We also have fun with Santa, and watching the children smile is amazing. We have Christmas music, and it’s a nice evening to celebrate the season and what Christmas is all about.
“There are many reasons why a family may be struggling. It could be that the breadwinner has lost a job. It could be due to illness. It could happen to any of us at any time. We want to support this Christian organization that helps people get back on the right track. They always express gratitude when they come to campus for the meal.”
The Wingard Home event isn’t the only way the MC Family shares Christ’s love with the community. For almost 20 years, Shari Barnes has coordinated the Christian University’s sponsorship of the Angel Tree program – a ministry that brings clothing, toys, and Christmas cheer to children with parents in prison – and for more than a decade, she has accepted gifts for residents of the Mustard Seed, a Christian community in Brandon for adults with developmental disabilities.
Director of the Community Service Center at Mississippi College, Barnes considers supporting Angel Tree and Mustard Seed an ideal opportunity to give back to those in need.
“These are legitimate, well-run organizations,” she said. “Those participating in these programs can know their contributions are going to the right place.”
Dr. John Travis, professor of mathematics at MC, originally coordinated MC's involvement with Angel Tree and Prison Fellowship Ministries. Barnes eventually inherited the responsibility from Margaret Cole, executive assistant to the vice president and executive director of the Alumni Association.
Before and after Thanksgiving Break, the first names, interests, and clothing and shoe sizes of dozens of boys and girls whose parent or parents are incarcerated in Mississippi are placed on construction paper “angels” tacked to a display board in the Cafeteria.
Participants select an “angel” from the board, purchase some of the requested items, and return them to the MC Community Service Center in the B.C. Rogers Center. The deadline to participate this year is Monday. Dec. 4.
While Prison Fellowship Ministries provides the names of the children, Barnes maintains personal contact with the families to make sure the information for each “angel” is accurate.
MC’s Community Service Center also supports about four dozen “Seedsters” during the Christmas season. Participants select a man or a woman and fill a bag with items the Seedster has indicated he or she would like to have, such as blankets, towels, socks, warm-up suits, books, or animated movies. Stuffed animals are special treats.
Unlike the Angel Tree donations, which are left unwrapped so the children’s guardians can see what they are receiving and participate in the gift-giving by preparing the presents, Barnes wraps the gifts to Mustard Seed.
“The Seedsters have so much fun unwrapping their presents,” she said. “If you visit the Mustard Seed facility just once, you’ll know why I enjoy helping them. They’re such loving adults, and their faces light up when they see their gifts.”
Whether donating to the Wingard Home dinner, Angel Tree, or Mustard Seed, Huey said the Christmas season is the perfect time to share the joy and the message of Christ with others.
“I would encourage students and faculty to volunteer,” she said. “The Wingard Home dinner is a fun time for everyone involved – especially for the children – and it is a true example of what Christmas is about: family, helping others, and showing the love and mercy that the Lord shows to us every day.”
Jolly said donations of dry goods, toys, blankets, and cash for the Wingard Home dinner would be welcome.
“It’s special that each child has his own blanket when he or she leaves the dinner,” he said. “Even though they may be displaced at the time, it gives them something that is theirs. That’s a great demonstration of love.”