Giving needy families a merry Christmas
Last year was shaping up to be a grim holiday season for Tamisha Smith.
The 35-year-old was unemployed, relying on financial assistance and could not string together enough cash to provide her son, Jansen, then 11, with a proper Christmas. Then God made a way for her family.
“It was just going to be a quiet day of reflection with me and my son last Christmas,” Ms Smith said. “We thought he would be getting one present from someone at our church, but we weren't expecting anything else.
“Then I came home a couple days before the holiday and got a shock. I saw a completely decorated tree and presents. My fridge was stocked. It had a red ribbon on it and the cabinets were full. The linen on my bed had been changed — there was a new bedspread on it and some pillows.”
Ms Smith was one of ten single parents that were blessed by Gnica Brangman's Christmas Crash 2014. The holiday scheme began three years ago as a way for Ms Brangman to give back. Needy families are given essential holiday items — a turkey or ham, a Christmas tree from Sousa's Landscape Management, decorations and toys.
This year 18 families will have a brighter Christmas season thanks to the scheme.
“I know what struggles there are for single parents. I'm a single mother myself,” Ms Brangman explained. “In some cases you have less family support and you don't have multiple incomes to rely on. Plus there are so many expenses that come up over the holidays. Your electricity bill increases and your food bill goes up because you have to buy the turkey, ham and other groceries. Christmas is altogether an expensive month and when you have a child that's an extra person to feed.
“I heard of one lady last year who was sleeping in her car. She didn't have a house so it didn't make sense getting her a tree. She didn't have an oven to cook with, but we provided her with a meal at a community potluck and blankets and things from The Barn to help them out.”
Ms Brangman, the owner of Orchid Nail Spa, admits her biggest satisfaction comes from knowing people can start to hope again.
“Sometimes we end up in our worst places so that God can show us there's more,” she said. “We just need to pull up our socks and go further in our faith.”
For Ms Smith the blessings came at the perfect time for her.
“Financially I wasn't stable,” she said of last year's predicament. “I didn't have a job and I'm not the type of person who likes to go around asking people for things.
“I told my son we wouldn't be having a Christmas and he was very understanding, but it was still hard. As a mother it was heartbreaking because I know every kid likes to celebrate the holidays, wake up early and see presents under the tree.”
To get through, she prayed.
“I said ‘I guess Christmas will be however God sees fit to bless us this year'. Then when I came home to find the tree and presents and everything I was completely surprised. I was overwhelmed with emotions.
“I fell down to my knees because only my son and God really knew I wasn't going to celebrate Christmas. I knew it must have come from Him. And the fact Gnica had been obedient to Him, that's what was so astounding for me.”
Everyone in the house that day celebrated by singing and praising God.
“Ms Brangman was trying to hold back her emotions. It was a real tear-jerker for everyone.”
Over the past three years, Ms Smith has had to learn how to trust and depend on God wholeheartedly.
Before that she was very inconsistent with her faith.
“I had to make a conscious decision I wasn't going to two-step anymore because a lot of people knew me to be in the church for six months then back in the club and smoking weed again,” she said.
“The road hasn't been easy, but I've learnt to trust Him. At one point I just threw my hands up in the air and said ‘God it's me and you now' and ride this path until the end. I've seen Him move consistently in my life since then. Now I'm a better mom. I'm more stable and just in a healthier frame of mind.
“The transformation is really profound because when I look back on my life from where I was to where I am know even I can't believe it. It was only God.”
Ms Smith will be paying it forward this month by volunteering with an organisation called Queen of Hearts, which provides food baskets to single mothers and seniors.
Her advice to anyone going through hard times is: don't lose the faith.
“If you're going to pray about your situation it doesn't make any sense to doubt because you're blocking yourself from receiving,” she said. “You're uttering a prayer, but in your heart you don't believe. Just know anything is possible with God.”
• For more information about this year's Christmas Crash, call 296-8696
Gnica Brangman’s tips for how to survive the holidays on a budget:
1. Start planning early. Instead of buying all her gifts in one go, Ms Brangman starts buying gifts as far back as October. “I buy one gift a week for my daughter to open on Christmas Day,” she said. “They could be $20 or $30 each, but when it comes time for Christmas I’ve gathered ten or 15 gifts for her. That’s a lot easier than if I were to try to buy everything for her in December.”
2. Look out for sales. Towards the end of November and early December many retail stores offer discounts on toys and other items. Try to find the best prices, that way your money can stretch a bit, Ms Brangman said.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ms Brangman said there are a lot of charities and non-profit organisations on the Island willing to lend a hand to people in real need. Reach out to a few of these groups so they know to keep you in mind if they come across any extra resources (like toys or grocery vouchers) for the holiday.