By Marilyn Tinnin
“Totally Forgotten. Those two words are felt by millions of people every day—people who are unable to care for themselves due to illness, old age, and the circumstances of life. I know as a young teenager, I felt so alone when my mother was stricken with a tragic brain condition that left her unable to care for herself. At first, everyone was wonderful. They brought food, helped with my brother’s and my needs, and were ‘present’ to offer prayers and encouragement to us as a family totally derailed by this tragedy. But when Mama did not die, the help disappeared because as everyone put it, life must go on. She lived in a homebound/hospital/nursing home setting in this condition for 37 years.
One night in 2005, I relived those lonely times in a dream. I woke up with an idea to “try” at least during the holiday season, to let people who were homebound, in nursing, veterans, and assisted living homes know that they were NOT ALONE, especially during the holidays. Thankful Christmas was born.”
Those are the words of Eva Hart, 40 years in the music ministry of First Baptist Church Jackson and director of the Reflections Choir, a 100 voice group of mature voices. She pitched the idea to her choir and they decided to throw a party for anyone who would come to the church. The choir decorated the fellowship hall in Christmas finery. They prepared a musical program that was lighthearted, to let people know the love of Jesus, made preparations with the FBC kitchen staff to feed the guests a free Christmas dinner, and hope the people would come. The first year was mainly word of mouth and 200 people came. The choir dubbed this as “the first Christmas party of the season.” It was held the Friday before Thanksgiving, thus giving THANKFUL to the name of the party.
This year will mark the ninth year of the program. The audience has grown from 200 to 600 guests. The invitation list includes the homebound members of First Baptist Church and every facility in the tri-county area. There are over 65 facilities that care for senior citizens, whether in nursing homes, VA centers, state-run homes, or assisted living facilities. SON VALLEY and WILLOWOOD bring their residents, as do several facilities in south Mississippi. Many guests come in their holiday attire; but some come in robes, in wheelchairs, hooked up to IV poles, oxygen—it doesn’t matter. It takes many volunteers to make this program happen. The FBC church staff assists as do many church volunteers who help by giving much-needed hugs, helping with transporting residents from cars, vans, and buses to the party, and getting them safely boarded after the party is over.
Hart recalls, “One year as the guests were leaving, a sweet lady, hooked up to an oxygen tank, and in a wheel chair, took my hands in hers and kissed me on the cheek. She said, “Thank you for this party. This is the first time I have been out of the nursing home except to go to the doctor for a year. You made my Thanksgiving and Christmas!”
This year’s event will be held on Friday morning, November 21, in the fellowship hall east of
First Baptist Church. The program begins at 10 a.m. and a free Christmas dinner with all the trimmings will be served. Everything is handicap accessible. If anyone wants to bring a homebound friend, please call Linda Clark for reservations at 601.955.5539.