To help needy families -- locally and internationally -- who find themselves struggling during the holiday season, area churches are sponsoring outreach programs, including purchasing gifts and donating food, clothing and medical supplies.
At First Baptist Church of Guilford, the Rev. John L. Wright said his church helps struggling families throughout the year.
"When a family needs help, the church is always there," he said, adding the church annually sponsors a December clothing drive that's sent to Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville, where mentally ill patients are treated.
Wright said that besides tangible gifts, the church offers advice for those seeking help.
"I talk to them and give them encouragement to get an education," he said. "We also talk about health and economic [issues]."
Wright said that it is important that people learn how to provide for themselves after they have received that "shot in the arm of help" from the church.
He said he has counseled everyone from adults to school-age children on the importance of such issues.
On the international level, he said the church is involved in missions in Africa and other countries.
"God works through people," he said. "He's not going to come out of the sky and do something."
At Twin Rivers Church in Columbia, the congregation usually gives out gift baskets if a family asks for help, said Anita Christman, office manager.
"We do it as the need arises," she said.
Bethany Lane Baptist Church participates in the Angel Tree Christmas ministry.
The program works with congregations to buy presents for children whose parents are incarcerated.
Typically, about $40 is spent on each child, with gifts usually including a toy and clothing. The ministry is a national program run by Prison Fellowship Ministries in Lansdowne, Va.
"We have provided toys for 20 families, and we do it annually," said Peggy Wise, administrative assistant at the church. The Ellicott City congregation is helping children in the Columbia area.
Cornerstone Community Church in Columbia recently embarked on a long-term mission to help 50 children living in Mbala, Zambia, said Michelle Craig, church administrator.
"Families are sending $30 per month ... and that goes for food, medicine ... many have AIDS or are HIV-positive," she said. "It's a really big commitment."
Craig said that each family will get pictures of the children they are sponsoring, and the church hopes to hang copies of the pictures at the church and keep the congregation updated about the children's progress.
"This is really exciting," she said. "We feel like we're making an impact."
Craig said the church decided to sponsor the children after members of Cornerstone's youth group researched information about the World Vision organization and its mission.
"They did a really good job," she said. "They gave all of their information to the whole church."
World Vision is a Christian relief and development organization dedicated to helping children and their communities tackle poverty.