By Sharon Gittleman
FERNDALE- Looking forward to pushing your way through crowds at the mall, only to spend too much money on that “perfect” gift that will soon be shoved in the closet and forgotten?
No one could blame you if you find yourself feeling a little jaded about the holidays.
It doesn’t have to happen.
Many people are seeking out the true meaning of their faith’s celebrations, trying to capture the spirit of love, freedom and family togetherness at the heart of the winter festivals.
The Rev. Rick Green, pastor of Praise Fellowship Christian Church in Madison Heights, hopes Christmas will inspire people to share with men and women in need.
“Its good to give something back to others, rather than just getting, getting, getting,” he said.
Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center in Ferndale offers visitors the chance to buy gifts for their loved ones at the same time as they help LGBT youths and adults, said spokesperson Bashar Makhay.
Every time you purchase something from the Pittmann-Puckett Art Gallery inside the center, 20 percent of the sale is set aside for Affirmations’ programs and operations, he said.
The work of Sharlet & Pietro DiGiorgio will be on display through December 7, said Makhay.
Sharlet DiGiorgio often works in abstract art, he said.
“Each piece is inspired by poetry. It comes with a separate framed poem,” said Makhay.
New and used books are another gift possibility. Art and photography volumes, fiction and biographies are just a few of your choices.
“We don’t ask for much – just a few dollars,” he said.
Head out to Just4Us in Ferndale, and you can pick up treats for your dear ones and aid groups that need your love and attention.
Chocolate fiends will find coffee beans dipped in their favorite confection, as well as gift packs filled with delights including truffles, peppermint shortbread and toffee.
Visitors to the shop will see a special Christmas tree, said owner Kevin Rogers.
Representatives of LGBT organizations, including Affirmations, Michigan Equality, the Midwest Aids Prevention Project, the Triangle Foundation and the Ruth Ellis Center have filled out tags with a wish list of small gift items, from reams of paper and ink cartridges to coffee.
Store patrons can take a tag, buy the item and place it beneath the tree.
“The day before Christmas, the organizations come here and pick them up,” he said. “It’s a good way to remember the organizations that take care of our community. I have people who come here and take 20 tags.”
Soldiers serving abroad are on the mind of Mark Bidwell, senior pastor at Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit in Ferndale.
Bidwell and his parishioners are sending a calendar to soldiers in the field, marking each day with a message of love and caring.
“One person wrote, ‘today is my birthday and I’m praying for every thing you do,'” said Bidwell. It’s a constant reminder that someone cares.”
Focusing on others can help you avoid the temptation to turn Christmas into a gift-giving competition, he said.
“It’s the time of celebration of the birth of Christ, the child of God who brought light into the world and gave us hope of love, life and joy,” he said.
Believers in other faiths or none whatsoever can also enjoy the pleasures of helping lighten the burdens of their neighbors.
Detroit Pistons fans can buy tickets for their favorite game and help youngsters, through the “Warm Hands, Good Hands” mitten drive.
People who bring children’s gloves, scarves and other winter chill chasers to Piston home games through December 31, at the Palace at Auburn Hills, will receive a discount coupon for treats at the concession stand.
They’ll also be entered into a drawing for the “Ultimate Fan Experience” – including two tickets to the team’s game on January 25, dinner in the press lounge, a behind the scenes look at the post-game press conference and an additional prize package.
All items individuals drop off will benefit Orchards Children’s Services, a foster care and adoption organization in Detroit and Southfield.
In 2006, the same effort brought in more than 650 mittens, gloves and scarves, said Hela Sheth, community relations coordinator for the Detroit Pistons.
“Each year, we can benefit hundreds of children in need,” she said. “Our main goal is to help people overcome their circumstances.”
The mittens may be the only pair of warm gloves some youths may own, said Lisa Finney, spokesperson for Allstate Insurance Company, a co-sponsor of the program.
“You can actually take part in making a difference to the community,” she said.
Nightly lighting of a candelabra, called a menorah, spinning a dreidel – a top with symbolic Hebrew letters, and eating food made with oil, like doughnuts and potato pancakes, are all traditional ways to celebrate Chanukah, the Jewish holiday of religious and national liberation.
At its heart, Chanukah reflects the joy Jewish people felt 2,172 years ago, when they defeated the foreign occupiers of Jerusalem against all odds. It marks the liberation and rededication of the Temple, when a small amount of oil discovered in the structure miraculously burned for eight days and became a symbol of the holiday.
Food plays a big role in the festivities – as it does with every special Jewish event. Making sure everyone shares the days’ pleasures is one way you can mark the community unity that powers Chanukah.
A few hours helping out at Yad Ezra Kosher Food Pantry in Berkley is one way to extend the celebration.
Each year, Yad Ezra gives out 800,000 lbs., of free kosher food, toiletries and household goods to poor Jewish families in the area.
“We don’t turn anyone away,” said Lea Lugar, pantry spokesperson.
Youngsters performing acts of charity in preparation for their bar mitzvah – the Jewish coming of age ceremony, often show up to help out, she said.
“Last week I came and there were three generations – a mom, dad, son and a grandma,” she said. “You had a literal example of families helping families.”
BTL readers would be welcome at the pantry, she said.
Volunteers escort people through the lines, bag up potatoes in the warehouse, perform clerical duties or make deliveries.
“We treat our clients with respect and dignity,” she said.
Helping others offers hidden delights, said Lugar.
“I think the biggest misconception is people think it’s a one way street, that they aren’t benefiting themselves. That’s so not true,” she said. “You read the news and hear these horrible things about the world. It alleviates that frustration of, ‘I’m one person what can I do?’ It provides a connection to create a sense of community.”
Call (248) 548-FOOD or set your browser to http://www.yadezra.org for more information about Yad Ezra.
For more details about Mitzvah Day call 248-642-5393, ext. 9, or visit http://www.jewishdetroit.org/mitzvahday on the Internet. Registration by December 9, is requested.
Just4Us is located at 211 W. Nine Mile Road in Ferndale.
Contact your local Veterans of Foreign Wars office or your county’s chapter of Michigan Military Moms for ideas about how to help soldiers serving abroad.
Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit is located at 2441 Pinecrest in Ferndale. You can read about their charitable efforts at http://www.mccdetroit.org/ on the Internet.
Purchase Detroit Pistons tickets at http://www.nba.com/pistons online.