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Every December, around 40 kids from Lydia Home in Chicago arrive at Lakeland excited and anticipating a Christmas celebration thrown just for them, and an afternoon when they’ll get to simply be kids at Christmas time.

It’s been a tradition for over a decade, according to Heide Blair, who organizes and staffs the party with her husband, Jim, and a group of more than 35 volunteers. The Blairs have been spearheading a partnership between Lakeland and The Lydia Home Association for nearly 20 years, bringing down a small team of volunteers every month to cook them a meal, do a craft, and play games.

Lydia Home, which recently celebrated 100 years of ministry in Chicago, cares for children in the foster system, helping them to find healing from abuse and providing a safe environment for them to grow.

Lydia Home Residential Milieu Director, Bev Triplet, described the effect the volunteer teams have on the lives of the kids in a 2015 letter she wrote to the members of Lakeland:  

“Often times our clients are crushed in their spirit and are brokenhearted, they feel like no one cares, but when they see Lakeland Church comes faithfully every month and see them at their worst and never run away but stay the course and show up every month with a smile on their face and a warm embrace, it began to heal their heart and feed their spirit.”

When Christmas time rolled around soon after they began volunteering, the Blairs and their team decided to start what they called “Project Lydia Home.”

“It was like Project Angel Tree,” said Heide. “We would get a list of things each child needed and wanted, and people could choose one to shop for.”  

At one time, it was common for staff members at Lydia Home to open up their homes at Christmas to the kids they cared for, but when that was no longer an option, the volunteer team from Lakeland had an idea to keep Christmas special for the children at Lydia Home: throwing a big Christmas bash just for them.

Every year since, on a Sunday afternoon as close to Christmas as they can make it, volunteers from Lakeland transform the entire multipurpose room into the Lydia Home Christmas Party, bringing in food, gifts, and games like carpetball and foosball, making sure every detail is perfect.  

The kids aren’t the only ones who have fun, the Lydia Home staff who attend are treated to some games of their own.

“One thing that stands out to us at the party is how excited the kids get when their staff win some of the guesstimating prizes,” said Lisa Hanagan, who’s volunteered at the party and during the monthly visits to Lydia home with her husband, Ted, for nearly 12 years. “They cheer and yell for their staff when they win.”

When it’s time to open gifts, each child gets one item to open and a gift card. The items that the kids open are the same for everyone, something that they need, and a Walmart gift card, which the kids can use to get a mix of things they need and things they want, and learn a little bit about how to manage money in the process.  

“The Blairs do an amazing job of getting the kids items that they can use and that they appreciate,” said Lisa. “Their faces just light up when they receive their gifts.”

This year, Heide was told that the kids really needed shoes they could wear around the house. When she set out to find the best ones that would fit in the gift budget, she called the customer service department of a shoe store and got an overwhelming response.  

“I told her about what we do and about Lydia home. I probably spoke for two minutes, but when I was done, with tears in her voice the woman on the phone said that if I got her the sizes we needed, she would get everything taken care of.”

The Lydia Home Christmas party represents a time for Lakeland to embody the love of Christ to the kids at Lydia home, to give them the best and show them that they matter to God, regardless of their circumstances.

“When we started doing the party, we didn’t even know the full impact. But the kids come in and find . something beautiful, and it’s for them,” said Heide. “They come and they get to be a child at Christmas.”

This year’s Christmas party will take place Sunday, December 17. Currently, all the party volunteer needs are filled, but if you would like to find ways that you can get involved with the Lydia home ministry, you can reach out to Jim and Heide at thechicagoblairs@gmail.com.