Bryan “Hollywood” Hayden claimed his usual spot at the front of a long line of volunteers set to deliver Christmas presents Friday morning.
This year marked his 30th time participating in Kokomo Rescue Mission’s Red Ribbon Christmas, which provided gifts and food to 1,069 families in need this year. The experience never gets old, Hayden said.
“Every year I do this, there’s at least one house, one person, one story that really stands out,” he said. “It makes me so grateful for what I have. When I met Kristina, (his wife of eight years), I wanted her to see why this is so important to me. When we started having kids, we decided we wanted our children to participate so they would grow up knowing how blessed we are and that Christmas isn’t just about what you get; it’s about God’s great gift in Jesus … and sharing love.”
With their 3-year-old son and nearly six-month-old daughter in tow, Hollywood and Kristina woke up at 3 a.m. Friday to make the trip from their home near Fort Wayne to Kokomo. Hundreds of volunteers joined them at the GM Components Holdings warehouse to load up Christmas gifts for 2,587 children and their families. Almost 60 of those families had been affected by the tornado and received special gift boxes.
“I love it,” said Anna Brown, Red Ribbon coordinator. “I’m chaotically busy, but I love seeing all the drivers. They’re so eager to get the boxes and go out and help. It’s amazing. We could not do this without the volunteers.”
In the past year, volunteers have donated 30,372 hours to the Kokomo Rescue Mission. Hollywood grew up attending Community Bible Church in Kokomo, which is how he first got involved in the Red Ribbon outreach as a teenager.
After riding along with drivers for the first two years, he bought a truck and has been making deliveries every year since. The event grew into a family affair, with Kristina participating for her 10th time this year, their children, Brennan and Summer, making the trip since they were born and Hollywood’s parents following in their own car this year.
“We’re going to be St. Nicholas today,” Brennan explained while his parents and other volunteers loaded their truck at 7:30 a.m. “We drive to each house and give each box to each people.”
Brennan helped count the house numbers as his parents searched for the six addresses on their delivery route. The “one story” that had a special impact on Hollywood this year was Barbara Yoke and her husband.
Facing a series of challenges, including health concerns, a lack of transportation and trying to care for a friend and their three teenage daughters, Yoke was grateful for Kokomo Rescue Mission’s help. After the boxes were unloaded and a prayer said, Yoke and her husband grew emotional as they hugged the Hayden family and wished them a merry Christmas.
“It means a lot because we can’t get the kids much,” Yoke said. “Every time we need the rescue mission, they’re always there to help us. We appreciate it.”
Rachel Moore also was thankful to receive the extra help this Christmas.
“It means a lot to my girls, (ages 7 and 8), because they wouldn’t have much otherwise,” Moore said. “They’re centered on family, but they like having a few things under the tree.”
Kristina was happy her family could play a part in helping them.
“It’s very eye opening,” she said. “There’s so many people who wouldn’t have anything if it weren’t for the rescue mission. It’s such a blessing to help them.”
Lauren Fitch, education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8587, Lauren.Fitch@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @LaurenBFitch.