By: Katie Sobiech
It all began with a bag of dolls and a dream.
In 1999, shortly after Tammy Palmer and her husband James were filled with the Holy Spirit – they were also filled with a desire to give back. As business owners and new Christians they felt it was the least they could do. Having both grown up in poor families they understood the struggle.
The ministry Hands of Hope is their way of giving back by reaching out to parents who are struggling to provide for their children. They give away toys free of charge every year to low income parents in the Akron area so that they will have something to put under the tree for their children on Christmas morning.
“This ministry is a way of showing the compassion of Jesus,” Tammy said, “It is blessing families the way He did.”
Along with the toys they share the love of Christ with many who may not know Him, and offer prayer and counsel.
The thought of beginning a ministry such as this came to the couple one day while they were at a yard sale.
“We were not yard sale people,” Tammy laughed.
But after being convinced by a sister-in-law that she and James should go, they went. To their surprise that decision changed their lives forever.
They found a table full of hand-made dolls created by a woman who wasn’t able to have children. The lady had taken up doll making as a hobby, but ended up having triplets and didn’t have time to make dolls anymore, so she decided to sell them. Looking at the dolls, Tammy thought, ‘We could give these away to needy children’.
The idea grew even bigger when she and her husband decided to collect even more toys for children in need. A light bulb went off as they also viewed it as an opportunity to connect families to Christ.
The Big Day
Though the ministry started out small with just a handful of dolls, it has now multiplied to thousands of toys brought in each year.
Families that are in need make a phone call to the ministry and are interviewed to see if their need is legit. If it is, they are able to come to the big giveaway which is normally a couple of weeks before Christmas.
“It is very humbling,” Tammy said, referring to watching the parents and grandparents come in to gather gifts for the kids.
She shared a story about how parents and grandparents showed up at 6:00 the night before the giveaway, in the freezing cold, when doors didn’t open until 8:00 the next morning.
“It was like they were waiting at a concert,” Jim said, “They were in sleeping bags and tucked up in blankets.”
It brought Tammy to tears to see how much the parents wanted to provide for their children.
What Matters the Most
This gave them another idea; not only could they minister at the giveaway during the day, but they could get started the night before while people waited.
“We have a group of some very beautiful people come and minister to them through the night with cocoa, soup and cookies,” Tammy said.
Then in the morning they are taken into the sanctuary to enjoy music, entertainment and a positive message. Finally, when the big moment arrives they are able pick out toys and clothes for their child and stuff stockings. Every toy has a tag on it that says “A Gift From God”. At the very end the parents are given a gift, special ornament, Bible, lotions and other small gifts.
They are also asked if they would like prayer.
“Almost everyone wants prayer,” Tammy said.
There are also prayer counselors there to speak with them.
After taking a survey and being asked what they liked the most about the program, most of the parents said that it was the prayer, praise and worship that they needed most.
“God would just match them up with the person they needed to talk to,” Tammy said, “They came thinking they were going to get one thing but God met them and gave them something a little bit greater.”
“You’re a Star”
The couple will never forget one lady who walked through their doors.
“She came through the line and was probably 6’5” and weighed 450 pounds, and it’s early and her hair is all…you know… she looks scary,” Tammy explained
They asked her for identification and to sign a release for her picture to be taken – which they do with all of their guests – and she said “Aww honey, I look a mess. I would not want my picture taken.”
But the man who checked her in looked at her and said, “You are a star.”
“She gleamed,” Tammy said, “and walked into the sanctuary.”
Later on as Tammy passed by the sanctuary she heard what she described as a “heavenly voice”, so she looked in and saw the woman singing like she said she’s never heard singing before.
“The whole crowd was up on their feet and it was like church. They told her to get up on stage and take the microphone!”
So she went up on stage and sang her heart out.
“The way she just ministered to those mothers was beautiful,” Tammy smiled.
“That was her time and place. She was supposed to be there,” Jim said.
“She was a star,” Tammy agreed.
If you would like to donated gifts or volunteer for this ministry please contact 330-678-2222