For a couple of hours today, some homeless people will go somewhere they might not have been in a long time: a Christmas party.
For seven years, Briana Alley has organized a party at Mercy Ministries’ day center at 1739 Fenwick St. for the homeless who seek shelter there.
Often without soliciting donations from the community, Alley and her mother, Jackie Wilder, have gathered clothing and toiletry items for more than 100 homeless people who use the shelter.
They fill bags with the collected items and homemade cookies to give away as presents, and offer hot meals. Today’s menu will include pulled pork barbecue, macaroni and cheese, and green beans.
Alley said she has not sought many donations over the years, though she asked hotels in the past for toiletry items. She and her mother pay for most of the party and gifts.
For instance, while on a trip to Maine last year, Alley picked up 200 pairs of women’s gloves to give out at the Christmas party.
This year, with her husband in school, her struggling with a small photography business because of the economy and trying to put together Christmas for her four small children, Alley said she won’t be able to do as much as in the past.
“The presents are going to be slim this year because I just can’t afford it,” she said.
Alley began throwing the Christmas party when she was 21, helping her mother volunteer at the shelter. The party continues to be a family effort. She said she can see a difference in the countenance of the homeless who attend.
“It just brought so much joy,” she said. “Every one of them was coming up to me and giving me hugs.”
Fran Oliver, the executive director for Mercy Ministries, said that although it is common for churches and organizations to provide a hot meal for the shelter, Alley’s is the only Christmas party at the day shelter.
The shelter provides a place for the homeless to go during the day. It offers hot meals, showers and laundry facilities.
“It will probably be the only Christmas party most of them have,” she said. “I remember one year we were decorating the Christmas tree. One man said to me, ‘I haven’t decorated a Christmas tree in three years.’ It seemed like such a little thing to us. They appreciate everything that’s done for them.”
The party will be held at 3 p.m. Alley said she plans to take more donations for New Year’s. For more information or to donate anytime, call (706) 814-8185 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.