Bringing holiday cheer to those in need

A ceremony was held at Keystone Community Church last week to bless the tent where people will be dropping off donations for the holidays.

The 9 a.m. event, on Nov. 7, was one of six tent blessings taking place simultaneously across Tampa Bay.

About three dozen people gathered at a tent blessing at Keystone Community Church in Lutz last week, to mark the kickoff of the effort to collect donations to help those in need. (B.C. Manion)

About three dozen people gathered at the Lutz event, which kicked off the joint effort of Keystone Community Church and First United Methodist Church to help bring joy to families in need, as part of Metropolitan Ministries’ annual holiday assistance program.

Pastor Kevin Grills, pastor at First United Methodist Church of Land O’ Lakes, presided over the tent blessing.

“The tent is up, so we are asking God’s blessing upon this community and what he would do through us as vehicles in bringing some of the bounty that he has blessed us with back into a community that needs it,” Grills said.

Kirsten Barton, director of corporate partnerships for Metropolitan Ministries, told those gathered that the holiday assistance program began when Rev. Morris E. Hintzman joined Metropolitan Ministries.

Families who received help throughout the year, asked if it would be possible to get a turkey for a traditional holiday meal and some toys for their children, Barton said. Metropolitan’s staff and the generosity of the community responded by providing turkey and toys for hundreds of families.

“Thirty-seven years later, we continue to do what we did back in 1982,” she said, and the ministry doesn’t just help people at the holidays, but provides year-round assistance to families in need.

“This year, with the help of our amazing partners, we will alleviate suffering and promote dignity for 18,000 families in Hillsborough, 5,000 families in Pinellas and 7,000 families here, in Pasco County,” she said.

Angela Hobson, chair of the tent effort at Keystone Community Church, talked about the history of her church’s involvement.

Pastor Kevin Grills, of First United Methodist Church of Land O’ Lakes, led a tent blessing at Keystone Community Church last week. It was one of six tent blessing events being held simultaneously across Tampa Bay.

“My first drive up to see this site that we were moving into is something I will never forget,” she said. “As I turned the corner onto (State Road) 54 and began to see the wide open lot that the church was sitting on, I clearly heard in my spirit: ‘Metropolitan Ministries tent,’” she said.

“I had no idea what I was doing, I just knew I had to move forward being obedient to that voice.

“We moved into the building in September and opened our first collection tent in November.

“The lesson I would learn from that one act of obedience has stayed with me and, over the years, it has grown my willingness to listen to God’s leading and to do what he says.

“Our obedience to him always, always, turns into a blessing for someone else.”

Debbie Gehlen, co-chair of the tent, said it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

In December of 2016, for instance, the church’s trailer — which was about three-fourths full — was stolen.

When news spread about the theft, the community responded, she said.

“People collected in the community and showed up with checks.

“St. Timothy’s Catholic Church showed up with 600 bags of toys, and they were all marked with gender and age. We received a lot of baby equipment.

“We received an anonymous check one day, for the trailer,” she said.

“We were very upset at the time, but we were really happy with the outcome. It was truly a blessing in disguise,” Gehlen said.

Barton said Metropolitan Ministries is excited to continue its partnership with Keystone Community Church as a collection site, and to “enhance our reach in the area by partnering with First United Methodist Church of Land O’ Lakes, as a distribution point for the Holiday of Hope.”

Jill Swann, a member of First United Methodist of Land O’ Lakes, said, “when this opportunity for distribution came up, we were excited and we are ready to go. Distribution will be for the Pasco clients before Thanksgiving and before Christmas, and we hope to serve 500 families at each holiday.”

Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore was at the tent blessing, as was Commissioner Jack Mariano.

Moore read a resolution approved by commissioners on Nov. 5, recognizing the efforts by the Keystone Community Church, the United Methodist Church of Land O’ Lakes and Metropolitan Ministries.

Others in the crowd included Summer Robertson, representing U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis’ office, and Sandy Graves, who is involved in a number of Land O’ Lakes and Central Pasco organizations.

Pastor Grills asked those gathered to form a big circle, hold hands and observe 2 minutes of silence to pray to God.

The pastor offered this prayer: “God of mercy, would you fill this space with your spirit, and create an atmosphere of help and healing. Bless those who come asking for help that they wish they did not need. Stir in our hearts and the hearts of those with plenty to give, a desire to do all that we can to ease the burden of others during this holiday season and throughout the year. Bless the gifts of time and work, food and toys and other supplies.

“In this time together, help us to focus not on ourselves, but on the mission you have for this ministry, to alleviate suffering, to promote dignity and to instill self-sufficiency.”

Want to help?
Tent hours at Keystone Community Church, 21010 State Road 54

  • Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Sunday, noon to 3 p.m.

Most needed items: Frozen turkeys and hams, cereal, yams, stuffing, gift cards, teen girl and boy gifts for Christmas (ages 13 to 17), and infant educational toys and gifts.

Volunteering opportunities in Pasco County:

  • Metropolitan Ministries Pasco, 3214 U.S. 19 N., Holiday
  • Keystone Community Church, 21010 State Road 54, Lutz
  • Calvary Assembly of God, 13544 U.S. Bypass, Dade City

To sign up to volunteer at all locations, visit

For information on group volunteering in Pasco County, contact Stacy Wyman at .

Published November 13, 2019

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