MANCHESTER, NH – There are reasons this is the season of giving. Certainly traditional December holidays have helped perpetuate the ritual of gift-giving, including Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.
Often the retail push of the season to shop and buy and receive is hard for some to balance with the religious overtones of the Christmas holiday. They don’t seem to belong together – and historians would argue that they don’t, really.
That’s a conversation for another time.
The reality is that, underneath it all, Christmas has become a time when we not only shop ’til we drop, but also consider the plight of those who, for one reason or another, do without. If you live in Manchester you are well aware of those in our city who drift from corner to corner, living at New Horizons for the Homeless, or just hunkering down in a dark corner someplace against the cold. You’re familiar with cardboard signs that read, “Hungry and homeless. Anything helps. God Bless You.”
You are torn between compassion and skepticism, that somehow the city’s homeless are operating a scam to use donations for booze or drugs, cigarettes or a slice of pizza. Maybe some are. Not enough is truly understood about the why and how of homelessness.
But those who feel called to minister to the needy, like Henry Demers of Harmony Home Ministry, don’t think too hard about why people are so lost, so lonely, so disconnected, or how they came to be that way. Demers believes God has the answers for those with an open heart.
Each year an army of volunteers sets up tables loaded with donated items – everything from hand warmers and socks, to small wrapped gifts for children. The volunteer shepherds are individually paired-up with guests, walking them through the maze of items available for free “shopping.” All guests attend a Christmas service and a chance to hear the word of God, followed by free lunch.
Last year more than 300 people came through.
This year’s event is set for Dec. 8 at a new location, Ste. Marie Parish, 378 Notre Dame Ave., on the city’s West Side behind Catholic Medical Center. Caroling and hot chocolate distribution begins at 9:30 a.m. outside the church. Volunteers will assemble at 10 a.m. to receive instructions. Buses will begin shuttling guests who need a lift from Veterans Park to Ste. Marie’s and back, starting at 9:30 a.m. Doors open at 10:30 a.m. to the public. Each guest receives a shopping ticket. No one leaves empty-handed, or without the offer of prayer for whatever burden they are carrying.
And Demers does his best to make sure every spirit in the room is filled with the love of Christ – the thing which motivates him to organize this annual event in cooperation with more than 50 city entities, non-profits and church communities.
Harmony Home Ministry is a non-profit outreach located at 222 Cedar St., operated by Demers, an ordained minister, and his wife Connie. The name of the outreach is taken from a verse in the book of Colossians, which reads, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
People in need of a meal, a shower or some compassion are welcome there, Mon., Tues. and Thursday between 1-4 p.m., or by appointment. For more information contact Demers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below: Video of 2017 Funky Christmas at First Baptist Church.