Toys and joy 

Jesus House collects food and toys for the holiday season.

click to enlarge Toy distribution at Jesus House can help children get through difficult times. - JESUS HOUSE / PROVIDED
  • Jesus House / provided
  • Toy distribution at Jesus House can help children get through difficult times.

In 1973, Sister Ruth Wynne and Sister Betty Adams founded what would become one of Oklahoma City’s premier charitable organizations. Determined to maintain their newly established organization, the pair worked long, arduous hours, dedicating themselves to the care and service of the community.

Since its initial founding, Jesus House carried out their mission in a number of different spaces, forcing the staff to relocate in order to keep up with increasing output. What had begun as a small soup kitchen offering regular Bible studies soon flourished into a homeless shelter fully equipped to take care of those in need. By 1983, the organization was incorporated as an official nonprofit, earning itself a more permanent location in the old Orchard Park School Building where it remains to this day.

Though several programs were added to its repertoire, those working hard to keep the original mission alive remain true to its roots. As donations for Thanksgiving came to a close, Jesus House executive director Mike Bateman and his team were ramping up another giving spree just in time for the upcoming holiday season.

“We know that with working parents in low-income neighborhoods, there’s a lot of pressure here in the holidays,” Bateman said. “We know it’s a struggle … so it’s just taking that pressure off of them this time of year.”

Having dealt with his fair share of hardships growing up, Bateman understands the reality of poverty and the difficulties that often arise as Christmas approaches. Raised by a single mother, he and his sister would often accompany her on trips to provide any assistance they could to the veterans residing in nearby nursing homes.

To this day, he recalls those moments as a source of inspiration owing to his unique sense of generosity.

“We didn’t have much, but I can remember us making sack lunches,” Bateman said. “And on the weekends, we used to go to the old skid row that used to be down here. We used to go there and hand out lunch packs, and so I guess it was instilled in me at an early age.”

A man of humble beginnings, Bateman now finds himself in a position to help make the difference he had always hoped for, expanding his compassion to those throughout the state in the form of food and toys.

For the fifth consecutive year, Jesus House will prepare to donate around 500 food baskets to families struggling to put food on the table. At 7:30 a.m. Monday, volunteers will line up at 1335 W. Sheridan Ave. to prepare the baskets for handout.

“It’s very interesting how they do it,” said volunteer Sloane Wellner, who works at Price Lang Consulting. “Everybody kind of gathers together and it’s like an assembly line. It’s fun because they time it. … It’s very competitive, so that’s fun to be a part of.”

According to Bateman, the volunteers’ new record clocks in at 500 food baskets in 20 minutes and 43 seconds. Those who plan to receive food should be prepared to show a valid state I.D. and proof of residence.

Due to a high volume of donations for the Thanksgiving baskets, Jesus House is not requesting any more food. However, the organization is accepting toy donations and will hold a wrapping day starting 9 a.m. Dec. 19. Volunteers dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus will venture out into nearby neighborhoods on Christmas Eve, handing out gifts to the less fortunate.

click to enlarge Volunteers prepare turkeys for distribution at Jesus House. - JESUS HOUSE / PROVIDED
  • Jesus House / provided
  • Volunteers prepare turkeys for distribution at Jesus House.

“We’ll just go make some kids happy on Christmas Eve that without this ministry, you know, they may have little to no Christmas at all,” Bateman said. “So it’s always a joy to see them — just the faces on the kids and the humbleness of the parents saying thank you. It makes it well worth it.”

The goal is to provide families a traditional holiday meal and presents the children can look forward to unwrapping on Christmas morning, something he plans to do for years to come.

And it doesn’t seem like he will be in desperate need for extra hands. Still, people are encouraged to sign up, especially if they’re looking for a way to give back to the community. Those who have volunteered in the past seem to have fond memories of their time at Jesus House, often reflecting upon the kindheartedness that made the moment.

“I just like seeing everybody get excited about coming together to put together the food baskets for other people,” Wellner said. “I mean, they’re not taking those home; they’re getting them ready for other people who really need them. It’s nice to see people coming together like that.”

“We want to let [families] know, ‘Hey, we understand and we love you,’” Bateman said. “And if we can help them out here in this period of time, that’s what we’re here to do.”

He acknowledges none of this would be possible had it not been for the compassion of his fellow Oklahomans. Without them, many families would go hungry.

“I cannot stress enough how important Oklahomans are, and their willingness to help us out this time of year is just amazing,” he said. “I’m a homegrown Oklahoma boy, so I understand that and have always known Oklahomans — they just have a heart to give and help.”

Those who wish to donate to the cause are asked to bring unopened toys. They can be dropped off 7 a.m.-7 p.m. every day at Jesus House, 1335 W. Sheridan Ave. All donations are tax deductible, and a receipt will be provided. Cash is acceptable in lieu of a toy. If writing a check, put “Christmas Toys” in the memo line.

Visit jesushouseokc.org

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