BRADENTON — For folks struggling with holiday preparations in a difficult economy, Christmas Community Connection must seem like a ray of light from Santa’s workshop.
It’s been compared to a giant garage sale, where everything is free, including clothing for men, women and children; house wares, furniture and appliances, and toys children. Several hundred teddy bears will be given to kids.
In addition, hundreds of food bags from Someone Cares Tampa Bay will be distributed, and there will be free hot chocolate and fresh-baked cookies for everyone.
The Church Without Limits, 2209 75th St. W., launched the annual holiday event four years ago when it was still meeting in leased space at a local middle school.
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Saturday’s event is set for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the church, and members expect the turnout will double last year’s 400.
JoAnna Erickson, co-pastor with her husband, pastor Steve Erickson, said church members have been distributing fliers during the past few weeks to low-income neighborhoods, crisis centers and other areas where people have felt the hard times.
When people come through the door of the church, they will be given a bag for the items they need and church members will be present to show them around.
“Basically, they shop for free,” JoAnna Erickson said.
For the larger items, like appliances, there will be a sign-up sheet and a drawing to give everyone an equal opportunity to win.
In addition, there will be a free gift-wrapping station for children who pick out presents for their parents.
The Ericksons were long-time youth ministers before founding The Church Without Limits five years ago.
“Our goal was to start a church from scratch. We got members out of jail, off the street, and anyone who wasn’t already attending a church, so that we weren’t taking or stealing anyone from another congregation,” JoAnna Erickson said.
That’s still a practice at the church, although there are some members of other congregations who help out with Christmas Community Connection.
Wednesday night, members of the church were in the sanctuary folding clothing and making final preparations for Saturday’s event. All year long, members collect items that will be given away in just a few short hours Saturday.
Peg Duriavig, who was laid off in May from her job of 25 years, was all smiles as she folded and sorted clothing.
“I try to look on the bright side,” she said. “It’s such a pleasure making people happy.”
Judy Wyllys, an associate pastor, said there’s nothing better than giving gifts at Christmas.
“We can’t wait until Saturday,” she said.
Member Susan Von Fossen said the gift for congregation members is in the giving.
“It’s always so neat to see the look on people’s faces,” she said.
Another congregation, Temple Beth El, formerly occupied the space at 2209 75th St. W. The Church Without Limits is now leasing the space and ultimately hopes to purchase it.
For more information, call 792-2080 or visit www. thechurchwithoutlimits.com.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, cam be contacted at 745-7021.