January 21, 2023 | Mary Rose Corkery
Over 27 years ago, Mustard Seed Communities, an international nonprofit rooted in the loving and healing ministry of Jesus Christ, began extending its service to marginalized inhabitants of Kingston and Saint Andrew, Jamaica. What started as a service to 20 people of the community surrounding MSC’s Kingston headquarters grew into a program that serves over 6,000 residents of Jamaica each year.
It all started modestly with MSC’s first Christmas Treat in 1995; today, the Christmas Treat is a holiday giving event with toys for children, hot meals for families in need, live music, and a spirit of togetherness. Unified efforts of generosity from MSC staff and their relatives, local businesspersons, members of the diplomatic core, and the Jamaica Police Force make it all possible.
In total, 250 volunteers participate in the Christmas Treat. Some begin preparation months before, gathering toy donations. More join in the effort in December, when the meal of jerk chicken needs to be prepared and packaged. Then, on Christmas Day, more join in to hand out the meals and toys, lead the convoy of twenty vehicles around Kingston in an orderly fashion, and to join the bugle corps in playing music throughout the event. Over 80 donors, both corporate and nonprofit as well as individual benefactors, also help make the day one of abundance and joy.
The annual outreach program continued in the same fashion, growing steadily in scale over time – until the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020. This is when resilience took on a new form in Jamaica’s communities. Staff and volunteers of MSC reformatted the outreach program to accommodate social distancing by purchasing packaged ingredients for two to three meals and delivering them to community members in need. Though the energy and togetherness of the Christmas Treat did not look the same as it did pre-pandemic, such generosity and joy persevered.
MSC’s renewed outreach efforts proved so successful, in fact, that outreach programs were implemented all year. Each apostolate in Jamaica now runs an outreach program for its surrounding community, including people in need not just in Kingston but also in Montego Bay, Moneague, Gordon Town, and beyond. On a weekly basis, staff and volunteers of MSC give excess food, clothes, and other supplies to serve over 1,500 people across Jamaica.
There is an intangible service performed with these outreach programs, as well; the act of generosity creates a safe space for everyone to laugh and be together. Some residents of MSC apostolates can join in on the joy, allowing them a chance to give back to a society that they feel has already provided them with so much. The spirit of reciprocal service and respect bridges divides that perpetuate discomfort and isolation, replacing these with inclusion and recognition of one another’s individuality and dignity.
MSC will continue its year-long outreach programs and will return to its Christmas Treat in its original form this coming December, complete with a live band and in-person celebration. Individuals inside and outside of MSC apostolates alike make an indelible impact on our community – serving all those vulnerable members of society is the mission alive at the heart of MSC.