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'Christmas for the Community' celebrates 26 years of bringing joy to local foster children


Alan Festo

The Gainesville Sun


One Gainesville church is once again preparing to spread a little Christmas cheer to the area's foster children and their families this holiday season.


University City Church of Christ — in coordination with Partnership for Strong Families — is set to host its 26th annual “Christmas for the Community” on Dec. 11 from noon to 1:30 p.m. at 4626 NE Eighth Ave. in Gainesville.


Event coordinator Donny Dillon said he started the event after his father, Don Sr., told him about a similar event he attended growing up as a foster child in Syracuse, New York.


"He was impacted by the love of people in the community," Dillon said.


Partnership For Strong Families, which is the leading child welfare services agency in North Central Florida, works in 13 counties. It provides resources and support for abused and neglected children as well as preventative services.


"It means so much to children during the holiday season," said Stevie Doyle, director of communications and engagement for Partnership For Strong Families, of events like Christmas for the Community, while also noting it is a special time for foster parents to share in the unique experiences they are going through.


"Being away from the traditional home that they knew, whether they are going to go back there one day or not, it's difficult to be away," he added. "So being able to provide children with gifts, but also community and events and joy during the holidays is so important for them."


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the last two years of the event were limited to drive-thru only, and Donny said he was "excited" to return to in-person festivities.


This year's event features a Christmas lunch provided by church members — fried chicken, ham, mac & cheese, mashed potatoes, fruit and more — for about 150 local foster children and their families. The children also will be treated to gifts, an autograph session with Florida Gators athletes and coaches, and, of course, a special guest appearance by Santa Claus.


Dillon said more than 60 University of Florida students will help with the event, including those involved with UF Rotaract, UF Equestrian Club and Gators For Christ.


'We feel like we're serving a special need, and the Bible talks about taking care of widows and orphans," Dillon said. "It's no good to preach about love if you're not practicing it, so it's important for us to practice what we preach and get out there and serve our community like we're supposed to."

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