Twenty years on, the still is issuing an open invitation to the public to gather at the church on the first Sunday each December to wrap gifts for the needy and enjoy other Christmas activities to kick off the holiday season.
"I think we have more people wrapping than in previous years," said the church's pastor, Anne Havrilla. "It's a lot of work but it's a work of joy," she added.
There were many familiar faces at the church auditorium and in rooms filled with activities and Christmas crafts for families to enjoy. But she noted, "I see people here I don't recognize."
Participants — whether regular church members or those who just decided to come by for the first time — enjoyed delicious refreshments, while helping to wrap 250-plus gifts for various charities that serve homeless families, those overcoming life-destroying effects of addiction and other individuals who need assistance.
Bonnie Frey of Warren, who volunteers each Christmas to organize the gift donation and wrapping program, said that more than 900 gifts had been collected, with most wrapped — including 400 by herself.
Many gifts were donated by church members who took gift tags from the Giving Tree, she said.
"As tough as the economy is, it's amazing to see how generous people are when you ask them," Frey said.
The day also presents an opportunity for kids and adults to enjoy making craft projects. Those projects included homemade plaques with the family’s name, an ornate paper star, Christmas card ornaments, an Advent wreath and more. Complementary light refreshments were served, prepared by the church's "Seeker" families.
As admission to the event, the church collected non-perishable food for the Food Bank Network of Somerset Food Bank. The church also collected new and gently used and clean winter coats.
Most of the gifts purchased by church members responded to wish requests received from the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Somerset County, the Newark Christian School, Plainfield Area YoungLives, Good News Home for Women in Flemington and Fish, Inc. in Dunellen.