The McPherson Alternative Christmas Gift Market is going virtual

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Special to the News-Ledger

Beginning Nov. 20 through Dec. 1, the ACGMMAC Facebook page will feature 10 charitable organizations, in lieu of the traditional in-person market.

“We will miss being together this year and learning in person about these amazing charities,” said Janelle Flory-Schrock, one of the event’s organizers. “But, we want to continue to raise awareness about these organizations and the work they are doing. Given the pandemic, the needs are great, this year.”

This year marks the 18th year the market, a project of the McPherson Church of the Brethren, providing an opportunity to give to local, national and international charities benefiting people in need as an alternative to traditional Christmas gifts.

As at the traditional market, donors choose which charities they wish to support. This year, persons may make donations online or download a form and mail it in. Either way, 100 percent of the donation goes to the charities. Check facebook.com/ACGMMac.

This year’s charities are the Cedars Residents Assistance Fund, Growing Hope Globally, Haiti Medical Project, Heifer International, McPherson Area Habitat for Humanity, McPherson County Food Bank, McPherson Housing Coalition, Mobility Worldwide, Mt. Hope Sanctuary and Steps to End Poverty McPherson County.

The STEPMC program, highlighted here, is like other charities dealing with the effects of the pandemic.

“It’s devastating,” says Beth Versaw, board president. “Because we are about relationships.”

STEPMC has been creatively keeping in touch with everyone involved, relying heavily on phone and electronic media.

STEPMC participants first complete a four-month session then commit to an 18-month program as family leaders. The leaders meet weekly with a partner, usually a middle-class volunteer, who walks with them and helps hold them accountable. The weekly meal is key in this process. “It’s been hard on STEPMC leaders, when they couldn’t come together for a meal, eat at a table with one another, support each other face-to-face. And, a weekly meal helps those with food scarcity,” said Versaw.

Flexibility meant meeting over Zoom during the first shutdown, then small groups meeting face-to-face outside and later inside and now, back to electronic meetings. Box dinners are being prepared and delivered or picked up before meetings.

Despite the pandemic, many McPherson STEPMC leaders are doing okay. Not many have lost jobs, although some have had their hours cut. Several work in nursing homes and other essential places and are committed to helping others despite the pandemic.

“People in poverty know how to survive,” said Versaw.

STEPMC has enjoyed incredible success, with over 40 persons getting out of poverty since the program began. In addition to the McPherson groups, Lindsborg has a vibrant, active program and Moundridge is beginning a new group with 25 trained volunteers.

According to Versaw, 11 resources help persons get out of poverty and only one of them is money. Others, such as employment, relationships, spirituality and understanding middle class values and language, are addressed. Skills learned are highly transferrable, as evidenced by the many STEPMC graduates, who have successfully applied for Habitat for Humanity houses.

Versaw says STEPMC is not as well funded now as they have been. They have chosen to keep all staff on. Long-term goals include training for local businesses and social service agencies, such as the police and fire departments, but for now, STEPMC will use funds from The Market to maintain its current activities.

“There are incredibly generous people in our community,” said Versaw. “Gifts from The Market will help us keep our essential services.”

“Honoring a loved one with a gift to any or all of these charities this Christmas will spread the hope of the season,” said Flory-Schrock