When Patricia came over to get more coffee, she asked for cream. Then she cried.
The 39-year-old mother was one of several attending a Christmas brunch for the children of prisoners, hosted by Middlesettlements United Methodist Church in Maryville District. Patricia came to the party with three of her four children, ages 5, 8, and 16.
But Patricia was troubled, because as she later revealed, she just lost her job. Her ex-husband is in prison, and she is unsure how she will feed their children or provide gifts at Christmas.
By the end of the party, Patricia’s problems weren’t solved, but she was blessed.
On Saturday, Dec. 13, Middlesettlements UMC provided gifts for about 30 children and gave their guardians big boxes of groceries to take home. The children's names, ages, and Christmas wishes were provided by Angel Tree Prison Fellowship of Blount County.
"We've had a ball doing this," said Luther Goodson, one of about 50 church members who organized the party. "To me, Christmas is about Christ in a manager, but to these kids, Christmas is the joy of toys."
Where ever they might be incarcerated, parents have opportunities to sign up their children for Christmas gifts through Angel Tree Prison Fellowship. Middlesettlements, which has 225 in average worship attendance, agreed to take all of the Blount County children on Angel Tree's list.
Church members provided four gifts for each child: two from their imprisoned parents, and two from the church. Parishioners also invited children to have their pictures made and to decorate their own frames. After the party, church members mailed the children's pictures and frames to their incarcerated parents.
"We just met you, but we love you in a very special way," the Rev. Joe Black said to the crowd following brunch. "We are so glad you are here today."
"It's a good season to be giving things to other people," said Emily, age 9, one of the church children who joined in the activities with the guests.
Caitlyn, age four, dressed all in pink, received a new pink sweater and a doll dressed in pink. She held the box with the doll closely, reluctant to let the cooing adults come in for a closer look.
Cynthia, age 16, didn't seem happy about getting out of bed early on a Saturday morning. But she grinned as she examined the boots her father gave her for Christmas.
Church members are considering offering camp scholarships to some of the children or re-gathering them for future events, Black said.
Near the end of the party, a woman with a top knot of hair, accompanied by three children, asked to speak to the group gathered in the Middlesettlements fellowship hall.
"I'm not one to stand and talk," she said, her voice choked with emotion. "But I want to thank you for what you have done today. I am so touched by this. This is what Jesus is all about."