JC Church Celebrates 12 Days of Kindness
A KINDNESS MOVEMENT
The Hope Center Tabernacle spent the first 12 days of December serving the community through diverse acts of kindness. Church volunteers brought Christmas cheer throughout Jersey City by visiting seniors, delivering care packages and gift baskets to local law enforcement, and serenading passerby with Christmas carols on the street, among other things.
Leigh Piatt-Gonzalez, the senior pastor of Hope Center, was inspired to start the “12 Days of Christmas” campaign while praying a couple of months ago.
“God didn’t call us to be in a state of perpetual bible study and prayer. He called us to live out our faith,” she said. “Our intent was to start a community kindness movement.”
Each day from December 1-12, members of the Hope Center participated in different outreaches.
David Acosta, Hope Center’s choir director, led a team of about 30 volunteers in Christmas caroling.
The group, which was composed of adults, teens, and children, sang traditional songs, such as “Joy to the World, “Silent Night,” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” They also randomly started singing “Jingle Bells” and “Feliz Navidad,” Acosta said.
The carolers began singing as they started walking, making stops at the North District Police Precinct as well as a few restaurants on Central Avenue. They also made appearances at Stop & Shop and Pershing Field.
“The response from the community matched our excitement,” said Acosta. “People pulled over, blowing their horns, thanking us, filming us. People were also standing at their doors and watching,” he added.
“It definitely made people happy,” he said.
SAYING THANK YOU TO JC’S TOP SERVANTS
On several days, the Hope Center focused on different Jersey City agencies that serve the community: the Police Department, teachers at a local school, the Fire Department, and the Parking Authority.
A team of Hope Center volunteers dropped off bags filled with food and other gifts to a group of firefighters at a fire station located on Newark Ave. This particular station is the main quarters for Engine 5 and Ladder 2, but is also a temporary home for Engine 10 and Ladder 12.
“It’s very rare to receive gifts like that,” said Firefighter Gary Cassaro, who has been with Ladder 12 for the past five years. “I really felt they went above and beyond with the amount of gifts they brought.”
Hope Center congregants also put together gift baskets and dropped them off at the North Precinct of JCPD.
“The Hope Center has been there for us,” said Matthew Ramos, Community Relations Officer for the North District. He was alluding to Hope Center’s long-standing partnership with the precinct to host National Night Out Against Crime in Pershing Field every August.
“We know them, we know they care,” said Ramos, “but it’s always nice to have a reminder. Especially with what’s going on – it’s kind of disheartening,” he said, referring to the tragedy that took place last week – the murder of Det. Joseph Seals as well as three others – Moshe Deutsch, Mindy Ferencz, and Douglas Miguel Rodriguez – in a shooting standoff at a kosher grocery store on Martin Luther King Drive. The shooting, which has been labeled an anti-semitic attack, has left Jersey City reeling right before the holidays.
CONNECTING DURING A FRIGHTENING TIME
For Piatt-Gonzalez, the timing of 12 Days of Christmas was no coincidence: “There was a divine plan to touch so many lives,” she said.
“But what impacted me most during the 12 days was that we had an opportunity to bring baskets of gifts to our local JCPD twice the week before the tragic shooting. Four days after our visits to our local precinct, our police force was out protecting our community and fighting for their own lives.”
While a gun battle ensued between police and perpetrators, David Anderson and Francine Graham on December 10 – all Jersey City Public Schools remained on lockdown.
Lidia De Los Santos, a dual-language preschool teacher at P.S. 6, experienced the lockdown.
“I prayed! A lot!” she said.
She says her students, who are four and five-years-old, began to ask why it was getting dark outside.
De Los Santos, told them, “we’re having a drill, it’s like a fire drill except we stay inside until it’s safe outside.”
Along with her aide, the 13-year veteran preschool teacher had a little Christmas concert, sang jingle bells, and gave out snacks and juice.
“I messaged my parents and told them we’re safe, just following procedures, and to please stay inside their cars or homes where it’s safe.” The lockdown was lifted by 4:30 pm.
De Los Santos also happens to be a member of Hope Center Tabernacle and spearheaded a faculty and staff appreciation breakfast as part of the 12 Days of Christmas on December 3.
“My favorite part of the outreach was having an opportunity for my colleagues to see that God is love,” said De Los Santos. “And because of that love, my church family and I spent a morning showing them that we appreciate what they do for our community and children.”
Everyone was touched by the kindness, she said.
“If communities knew each other, talked to each other and looked out for each other, these violent acts of hate would probably not be happening,” De Los Santos said.
“I pray for our communities and that we begin to heal from all the hate,” she said. “I’m just so proud that Hope Center is making a difference. [It] may result in that change to peace that we need.”
LIGHT IN DARKNESS
There were two outreaches scheduled for December 10, and Hope Center had a couple of teams on the street a few hours after the lockdown lifted, Piatt-Gonzalez said. One group handed out stuffed Christmas stockings with gifts to children on Central Avenue, while the other group gave out packages of essential items to the homeless community in and around the Journal Square terminal.
Suleiman Yahaya, a deacon at the Hope Center, was part of the team that went to Journal Square on this painful day.
“I know people were very defensive when we came up to them at first,” he said, “but I don’t know if it was because of the shooting. As we talked, they became more receptive.”
In addition to handing out essentials like socks, hats, deodorant, and toothpaste, his team spent time chatting and praying for people.
Yahaya was most touched by the fact that “we were able to go out and actually give things to people and remind them that Jesus cares for them, Jesus loves them,” he said.
TRAGEDY HITS CLOSE TO HOME
Yahaya has lived in Greenville for 12 years. His home is just one block from the Bayview Cemetery, where Det. Joseph Seals was shot, and only a few blocks from the Kosher grocery store that Anderson and Graham targeted in the shooting.
“I saw the video of them getting out of the U-Haul and shooting in the street. That’s never happened in our area before. There’s been gang stuff and shooting in cars, but not open shooting with that kind of firepower. You’ll hear gunshots in the distance, but it’s done in 5-10 minutes, but this lasted hours.”
Yahaya is disturbed by the fact that the attack is being considered an act of domestic terrorism.
“Hasidic Jews have been coming into our area – they go into the same stores, they walk on the same streets,” said Yahaya. He added that some members of the Hasidic community live on his block and are also part of his condo association. “There’s not been any kind of overt hate. [Seeing this] was very unsettling for me.”
He doesn’t take lightly the opportunity to show kindness to others.
“I really feel like this is something I’ve been missing.” he said. Yahaya hopes to continue going out into the community to show them the love of Christ.
“We were there exactly when we needed to be,” said Piatt-Gonzalez, summing up the 12 Days of Christmas. “Love is best shown in the midst of adversity.”