BROOKSVILLE - Among the hundreds of homeless or impoverished children in Hernando County, one girl said her No. 1 wish would be to receive a Taylor Swift CD this year for Christmas. A boy, age 8, said he would like a football or basketball.
They are part of Faith Church's "Matthew Project," which provided gifts for the more than 200 known homeless or impoverished children in Hernando County schools last year during the holidays, said program coordinator Monte Patterson.
"Years ago, they were having their meeting, and said, 'Boy, it would sure be nice to buy Christmas gifts for these kids,' and the Sunday after Thanksgiving that first year they called me," Patterson said. "We said, 'Let's give it a try.' We had to have all the Christmas gifts in, and had to have all the gifts in before school got out, and it was just a miracle the way it all worked out."
Since the program started four years ago, the demand has continued to increase each year, Patterson said. Already the organization has 239 homeless kids in need of gifts, from newborns to 19-year-olds, Patterson said.
Due to a lack of family shelters - compared to men and women's shelters - many families facing hard times are sleeping in tents or cars or bouncing from house to house just to keep parents and siblings together, Patterson said.
"The worst part of that is they can't get additional help, because they don't have an address to get benefits or assistance," Patterson said.
Many of the homeless students are part of the church's HeartFELT program, which sends food home to the students on weekends to feed them and their siblings, according to the organization.
The goal of the "Matthew Project," which is named after a passage from the Gospel of Matthew, is to provide gifts for all the children.
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in," Matthew 25 reads. "I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."
The church prints the names of homeless students in Hernando and a three-item wish list of gifts they would like to receive during the holidays.
"It's amazing how some will provide almost everything on the index card. . When I go to pick up the gifts, I fill up my van three, four, five times, and that doesn't include the gift cards," Patterson said. "Everything from clothing to computers, but I had one kid ask for a grill so his family could cook ..."
"You think homeless and you don't think electricity, because they're living in the woods," Patterson added. "But many are living in their cars, but do have access in their schools, and a lot of other places they can plug those in, because a lot of kids need stuff like that."
The deadline for churches and organizations to deliver or have gifts picked up is Dec. 15, Patterson said, and Dec. 16 for businesses, because many businesses are closed on Sunday.
"The deadlines aren't set in stone but are preferred deadlines," Patterson said. "We'll pick up gifts from each of those churches and organizations and deliver them between the 16th and 19th so they can take them home and have those for Christmas."
Those interested in helping can contact Patterson at (352) 279-5985 or Faith Church at (352) 796-4969 or drop off gifts, gift cards or money at 200 Mt. Fair Ave. in Brooksville.