Three Gainesville organizations collecting donations to celebrate the season of giving


Some local organizations are collecting items for families in need this holiday season. Among the local charity groups participating in events and toy drives this season, CityLight Church, Partnership For Strong Families and Peaceful Paths have brought the essence of Santa to Gainesville families.

CityLight Church: Light Up The Night

The CityLight Church, 5020 NW. 23rd Ave., will host its Light Up The Night event on Dec. 12 from 3 to 7 p.m. The event is a Toys for Tots food truck event featuring food vendors, live music and activities like games, face painting, pony rides and more. This is the church’s first time collecting toy donations on its campus.

Josh Wicker, the lead pastor of CityLight Church, said the organization is asking those who attend Light Up The Night to bring a new, unwrapped toy for children ages 3 to 15.

He said he’s excited to share a little cheer and joy with children in Gainesville this holiday season.

“It’s going to be a day of food, fun, music and memories that will result in putting smiles on the faces of thousands of children this Christmas morning all across our county,” Wicker said.

Wicker said CityLight Church is only collecting toys at the event on Dec. 12. However, Toys for Tots in Alachua County has collection points around Gainesville to gather gifts for children in need throughout the month.

Partnership For Strong Families: Wish Upon a Star

This holiday season Partnership For Strong Families (PFSF) is hosting its 14th annual Wish Upon a Star toy drive. The toy drive is collecting donations at 5950 NW. First Place. PFSF began collecting toys on Nov. 29 and will accept toy donations until Dec. 17. Financial donations toward the initiative are accepted until Christmas day.

PFSF describes itself as an organization designed to protect local children from abuse and aids in establishing a permanent home with their family or guardian.

“Back in 2020, the toy drive served around 1,200 local children within our system of care,” Jacob Clore, a community engagement specialist at PFSF, said. “As many of these children will be away from family, we believe they deserve an especially bright holiday which is why we seek community support to fulfill their holiday wish lists.”

Clore said as of Nov. 29, presents for about 164 of the 1,250 sponsored children had been checked in.

Donors may sponsor an individual child’s wish list or purchase gifts from the organization’s general online wish list.

“We are fortunate to have all of our children currently sponsored, but as children enter care, we may have a need for more sponsors,” said Clore. “Financial donations and general gifts help us when children enter our care within a few days of the holidays.”

Clore said donors who purchase gifts through the online wish list should drop them off at PFSF’s main office.

Peaceful Paths: 2021 Holiday Gift Giving Program

Peaceful Paths is participating in its annual Holiday Gift Giving Program to support local individuals and families who have been affected by domestic violence.

Peaceful Paths, 2100 NW. 53rd Ave., is a certified domestic violence center that offers a variety of services including programs for children, emergency shelter and victim advocacy.

The center gives donors an opportunity to donate an unwrapped gift of their choice. Donors also have the option to sponsor a family’s holiday wish list through its Adopt a Family program. The Adopt a Family initiative gives each family member five gift requests in addition to a gift card.

Stephanie Freas, the fundraising director at Peaceful Paths, said Peaceful Paths is accepting unwrapped toy donations until Dec. 10. She said although the center prefers gifts to be collected by Dec. 10, if a donor wishes to contribute after the official deadline to call Peaceful Paths and coordinate a good time to drop it off.

The organization will also be accepting monetary and non-perishable food donations throughout the holiday season.

Erica Merrell, the director of finance at Peaceful Paths, said the joy that comes from giving during a time where it can be easy to focus on receiving is special. Merrell said she’s started to have conversations with her 4-year-old daughter about homelessness and abuse this holiday season and the talks resulted in the pair putting together a donation for two single women.

“My daughter and I have been having some hard conversations and I could see her little heart was carrying it,” Merrell said. “So one of the things we decided we would do is adopt a family to help them take care of their Christmas.”

Merrell said watching her 4-year-old get excited to pick out items for someone in need showed how having tough conversations early can make a positive impact. She said she looks forward to adopting a family with her daughter every year from now on.

“We want to be a part of helping people. Partnering with our donors at this time of the year is amazing,” Merrell said. “My daughter had so much fun choosing gifts for someone else and the joy of giving is exactly what I wanted to teach her.”

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