By Lana Kruse
More than 340 people attended the Sixth Annual Christmas Wonderland, sponsored by First Step Back Home, Inc., homeless ministry in Lake St. Louis, Saturday, December 20, 2014 at the Wentzville United Methodist Church, 725 Wall Street. The spacious gymnasium proved to be an excellent venue for the 8 local churches, 6 businesses, 5 community groups, 6 social service agencies and at least 50 family units from all over St. Louis County and St. Charles County who joined to bless more than 220 working poor and homeless people.
Highlighting children activities was the appearance of Santa, bearing gifts for each child, and a children’s magic show. Themed festive twisted balloons, face painting, games, and crafts kept kids entertained and they were even invited to their own special “Secret Santa” shopping store to find gifts for their parents. Two bikes were raffled off, one for a boy and another for a girl. Most activities were organized by members of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Ballwin, led by Julie Patthoff, and Gateway Church, St. Peters, led by Chris Bray. A huge toy drive from First Free Will Baptist Church, O’Fallon, resulted in more than 500 items that filled the “Elf Room” where parents hand selected gifts for their own children. Dawn Henry, LSL, and Julie Graul, St. Charles, organized all of the items, and arranged for bagging and wrapping supplies as well.
For adults, highlights were the provision of loaded laundry baskets, personal care items, gloves, diapers, and shopping for gently used clothing. A flood of new and used clothing poured in to the event, and was organized by type by the Oakridge Baptist Church group. More than 90 fully loaded laundry baskets were contributed by donors. One group that surprised us was the Facebook friends of Peggy Leicht, who showed up with a trailer the day before with 50 fully loaded laundry baskets!
A delicious lunch was prepared by the “In His Service” group from First Baptist Church at Harvester, led by Julie Burchett, Lake St. Louis. Thanks to many last minute food donations there was plenty of “extras” to pass on to attendees and to send to The Salvation Army for their Christmas event the following day.
Guitar, keyboard and vocal music filled the air during most of the event thanks to the Oakridge Baptist Church family of St. Peters.
One of the biggest surprises for this year’s event was the provision of more than 10,000 diapers of all sizes that had been collected by Harvester Christian Church and it was a joy to be able to dispense these to families in need. Not a one was left at the end of the day!
First Step Back Home Inc. is a 501c 3 public charity that has been organized since 2005. It is the only agency serving single homeless men in the St. Charles, Lincoln and Warren County region. Since its inception more than 6000 homeless and working poor – men, women and children, have been served to help fill the gap the service needs throughout the region. More than 4800 truckers have also participated in weekly church services sponsored by the organization over the past 13 years. The Truck Stop ministry was the place where the homeless ministry began. The charity is run by Pastor Paul Kruse, his wife Lana, and two part-time employees. Check out the ministry website for more details. www.firststepbackhome.net.