(405) 425-5070
Sandy Simmons hands a Christmas snow globe to a shopper’s child. The world map behind them details the church’s global mission efforts.
National
Photo by Erik Tryggestad

Michigan church gives itself away — every week

Souls in need find clothes and community as they browse through piles of donated goods.

BRIGHTON, Mich. — A church gathers here every Tuesday afternoon.

Its members — wrapped in hoodies, jackets and faded Michigan Wolverines gear — huddle in a line outside the meeting place of the Brighton Church of Christ, about 45 miles west of Detroit. One woman sits in her car smoking a cigarette.

Patiently, they wait for the doors to open.

Guests line up on a rainy Tuesday afternoon for the 2 p.m. giveaway at the Brighton Church of Christ near Detroit.

Guests line up on a rainy Tuesday afternoon for the 2 p.m. giveaway at the Brighton Church of Christ near Detroit.

Inside the fellowship room, volunteers heave armfuls of clothing onto folding tables, organizing them as gospel music plays from the Bible class DVD player. Hymnals are stacked in the corner to make room for tables of children’s clothes. Shoes go in a side room, next to belts and ties. At the back are bins of Christmas decorations.

It’s an organized, efficient process. They do this every week.

“We don’t have much today,” Ken Simmons says as he holds a hand over a deep pile of leggings, sweatpants and jeans. “It’s usually double, double the height.”

The reason this week’s piles are “smaller,” he says, is that the church just filled 2,000 shoeboxes with toys and clothes and sent them to Nashville, Tenn., where Healing Hands International will ship them to children around the globe.

The Brighton Church of Christ's giveaway features tables of donated dishes, clothes, jackets and Christmas decorations.

The Brighton Church of Christ’s giveaway features tables of donated dishes, clothes, jackets and Christmas decorations.

Simmons has coordinated the giveaway ministry for 14 years. At age 88, he moves quickly through the room, saying hello to each volunteer. He knows everyone’s name.

Looking at the clock, he says, “I need to let ‘em in.” The volunteers stand aside.

“You know how it is on Black Friday? It’s about to get like that here,” one volunteer says as Simmons opens the doors. The cold souls pour into the room, leafing through the piles of clothing with speed and efficiency that mirror those of the volunteers.

But it’s hardly chaotic. There’s a politeness, even a sense of reverence, among the congregants as they fill sacks with the donated clothes.

Everything will be gone in less than two hours, Simmons says. What’s not taken by the shoppers, as everyone here calls them, gets boxed up and sent to another giveaway on the other side of town. Eventually, unclaimed items will go to Goodwill or another nonprofit.

“We’re going to turn this (back) into a church in about an hour and a half,” Simmons says.

But it feels like a church now, especially when Simmons asks the shoppers to stop so he can lead them in a chorus of “Amazing Grace.” They join in, some singing quietly, a few mumbling the lyrics they know.

@christianchronicle BRIGHTON, Mich. — Ken Simmons leads “Amazing Grace” for shoppers during the Brighton Church of Christ’s weekly giveaway. Hundreds of people have visited rhe congregation in the suburbs of Detroit to shop for donated clothes, dishes and baked goods. The church also gibes Bibles to those who request them. #brightonmichigan #churchgiveaway #churchofchrist #detroit ♬ original sound – The Christian Chronicle

“I once was lost but now am found. Was blind but now I see.”

For Simmons, the sound resembles the voices of angels.

“You all sound so great this week!” he gushes.

Shopping and sharing

Simmons asks if there are any first-timers. Ali, a delivery driver from Detroit wearing a large headset, steps forward. His family originally came here from Senegal, a predominantly Muslim nation in West Africa. He’s brought a large group of his relatives. A group of refugees from Somalia, some of the women wearing headscarves, are among the returning guests.

A child rests as her family looks over the donated items at the Brighton Church of Christ's weekly giveaway.

A child rests as her family looks over the donated items at the Brighton Church of Christ’s weekly giveaway.

Kim, a mother of two, has been coming here for five years. She works three jobs to make ends meet and isn’t able to go to church on Sundays. Her husband works, too. He gets up at 4 a.m. and doesn’t make it home until after 6 p.m.

Kim’s mother-in-law is here, too, in a wheelchair. The volunteers let them come in early so she doesn’t get stuck in the crowd, Kim says.

They’re not shopping for themselves today. Kim is gathering clothes for her sister-in-law, who can’t make it on Tuesday afternoons. Her 9-year-old daughter, Savannah, looks through a box of toys on the floor and pulls out a plush bulldog wearing a bow tie. Her cousin might like this, she says.

The volunteers don’t stand idly by. They scan the tables with specific people in mind. If a pair of size 14 sneakers comes in, they know a very tall lad who could use them.

6026 Rickett Rd, Brighton, MI 48116

“Grandma Kathy,” as she’s known here, is a shopper and a volunteer. She comes early to help set up and always is on the lookout for things her extended family could use. But she also brings clothes and shoes that she doesn’t need anymore. Kim and some of the other shoppers do likewise.

Judy Brown and Scott Walker are volunteers but not members of the Brighton Church of Christ. They worship with a Baptist church down the road.

“I was driving past here one day and … well, the Lord sent me, actually,” Brown says. “I met the pastor (preacher) here. I told him I was doing a Christmas play at my church. Could I come in early and look for props? They met me, and they got to know me. They approached me, like, maybe the third week and said, ‘We’ve been watching you. Would you like to serve here?’”

“I was driving past here one day and … well, the Lord sent me, actually.”

Baked goods and Good News

One of the shoppers asks for a Bible. Minister A.J. Snively is happy to oblige. He opens God’s Word and points to a few specific verses.

Brighton Church of Christ minister A.J. Snively points out verses in a Bible requested by a shopper during the church's weekly giveaway.

Brighton Church of Christ minister A.J. Snively points out verses in a Bible requested by a shopper during the church’s weekly giveaway.

The church, like so many across the nation, suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Attendance is about 100 on a good Sunday, Snively says. This room, the fellowship hall, has served as its meeting place since a fire in March damaged the auditorium.

That hasn’t slowed the giveaways or the church’s Magi gift box efforts.

Baptisms have resulted through the church’s community outreach, Snively says, but the church still struggles to grow numerically.

But maybe it’s not about numbers, he adds. Maybe it’s about answering Jesus’ call to “give to anyone who (has) need” as the church described in Acts 2 did. Maybe it’s about modeling generosity for the church’s children, including his own boys, who often spend their Tuesday afternoons running around the fellowship hall, helping out.

As the shoppers shop in the fellowship hall, Brighton church member Jeanenne Buchanan reupholsters a church pew in the auditorium, which was damaged by fire in March 2023. Buchanan also volunteers with the giveaway ministry, helping to collect donated items as they’re dropped off.

As the shoppers shop in the fellowship hall, Brighton church member Jeanenne Buchanan reupholsters a church pew in the auditorium, which was damaged by fire in March 2023. Buchanan also volunteers with the giveaway ministry, helping to collect donated items as they’re dropped off.

Despite its attendance, the church is well known in Brighton. Everyone seems to be aware of “the church that does the giveaways,” Snively said. That’s why they can clear the building of untaken items and still have stacks and stacks to offer next week. People bring their donations to the building constantly. A nearby Panera donates baked goods so that the shoppers can break bread together and take some home for their families.

During the brief devotional, Simmons takes prayer requests from the shoppers. One woman asks for healing for her legs. Another says that her daughter, who lost her job during the pandemic, has found a new one. The congregation applauds. A third says that her best friend just lost her mom.

Simmons prays for them all, asking God for healing and for blessings upon all who have gathered on this wet Tuesday afternoon. 

“We know, Father, that without you in our lives, that our lives would be void. They’d be empty. They’d be dry.”

“We know, Father, that without you in our lives, that our lives would be void. They’d be empty. They’d be dry.”

A gift for a princess

As the shoppers collect their bags and return to the cold, the volunteers gather the unclaimed clothing for shipment to its next destination. Among them is Simmons’ 67-year-old daughter, Sandy. She lives in a small town near Harrison, Mich., about 150 miles north of Brighton, but she makes the drive whenever she can to help with the giveaways.

As the temperature drops, she expects to see more homeless visitors here. The volunteers have a procedure for that, too.

“I’ll say, ‘Follow me,’ and I’ll hook them up with boots and shoes and socks and underwear,” Sandy Simmons says. “Then we’ll go to the bedding, get them a pillow if we have one or sleeping bags, hopefully a suitcase with wheels or some backpacks. …

Sandy Simmons hands a Christmas snow globe to a shopper’s child. The world map behind them details the church’s global mission efforts.

Sandy Simmons hands a Christmas snow globe to a shopper’s child. The world map behind them details the church’s global mission efforts.

“Hang on,” she says, interrupting herself. She pulls a blue Cinderella snow globe from the box of Christmas decorations before it’s carted outside. She presses a button, and snow flurries spin around the plastic princess as music plays.

“I’ve gotta find someone to give this to,” she says, walking across the room as the globe continues its twinkly tune: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let Earth receive her King.”

She hands it to a young Somali girl sitting on a church pew. The girl stares at the gift, confused, and looks up at her mother, who smiles and leans close.

“Christmas,” her mother whispers.

Filed under: christmas Church giveaway Churches of Christ community development community outreach giveaway Healing Hands International ministry National News Partners Top Stories

Don’t miss out on more stories like this.

Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.

Did you enjoy this article?

Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.

$
Personal Info

Dedicate this Donation

In Honor/Memory of Details

Card Notification Details

Credit Card Info
This is a secure SSL encrypted payment.
Billing Details

Donation Total: $3 One Time