ORLANDO – What can really make a difference in people’s lives, Deborah Wiggins said, is to give them something everyone needs: hope.
“That was exactly the idea,” Wiggins said. “If I had to have a theme, it was hope – giving hope to the community.”
Lady Deborah Wiggins is the wife of Bishop Allen Wiggins, the senior pastor of the Hope Church in Orlando. Last Saturday, the church saw several months of very hard work translate into something of a minor miracle, when the first Washington Shores Community Christmas Parade and Celebration was launched, drawing 56 groups that registered to participate in the parade, as well as an overflow crowd at Columbia Street and Goldwyn Avenue, along the parade route.
Even more importantly, said Wiggins – who was the driving force behind the parade – it served her initial purpose: to bring the Washington Shores community together in a true holiday celebration.
“I thought this was a way to encourage people and show them love,” she said. “I think it did that. I’ve heard nothing but positives about it.”
And it is now, she added, an annual event.
“I’ve already started planning for next year,” Wiggins said. “We’re already arranging to completely shut the street down and get more groups to participate. I think next year, we’ll have over 100 groups in the parades. I’m already hearing from people who tell me, ‘I couldn’t make it this year, but next year I definitely want to do it.’ “
The Christmas parade, Wiggins said, was born out of what she felt was a clear need within this lower income community, hard hit by the recession, to find a way to feel good about where they live.
“I think this community has been hardest hit” by the recession, she said. “You’re looking at a very high unemployment rate here. This community has a lot of low income families here.”
As the Christmas season approached, Wiggins said, she wanted to give them something special that would cheer their spirits and make them feel like they were a part of a loving extended family.
“Knowing that people are struggling and they would not be able to give Christmas gifts to their children, I thought about what we could do,” she said.
That’s when she came up with the idea of having Hope Church sponsor a Christmas parade, followed by a holiday celebration on the church grounds. That was last September.
“We are a church in the community, but we are here to serve the community in different ways,” she said. “It’s kind of been on my mind to do for a while.”
She talked about the idea with the neighborhood’s city commissioner, Samuel Ings, and “From there the ball was rolling,” Wiggins said. “I guess we had six to seven weeks of planning time – but we did it. I had about 35 to 40 volunteers, and we started out talking about what my vision was for the parade. We had an administrative team that helped me pull things together.”
Getting groups to register to march in the parade turned out to be easier than she thought.
“We started outlining some groups from the community that we thought would be good to ask to participate,” she said. “We put the word out and soon the phone was ringing off the hook with people saying, ‘How do we participate?’ We got the word out on the radio talk shows, and we got 56 groups to register for the parade.”
But if Wiggins and the members of the church were surprised at how many groups decided to join in, they were stunned at the overflow crowded that turned out on Saturday, Dec. 17 to watch the parade.
“We had no way of knowing the number of people who would attend this parade and event,” she said.
Wiggins said she’s also pleased that the church led the way on organizing this celebration, bringing together other neighborhood churches that agreed to participate in the parade. She recalls how when she was growing up, the church was truly the focal point of the neighborhood.
“I think in recent years, the church has been just a part of the community like anything else, like a grocery store,” she said. “When I was younger, the church was the place.”
And in addition to giving them hope, Wiggins said, the church gives them a reason to keep fighting when times get tough.
“I think a lot of times we do tend to forget there really is a God who cares,” Wiggins said. “I do believe that message was very well received by the community. I wanted the churches to come together, and he the hands and feet of God.”
The Hope Church is at 3032 Monte Carlo Trail in Orlando, and 101 W. Cypress St., Suite A, in Kissimmee. To learn more, call 407-291-HOPE, or log on to www.TheHopeChurch.org.
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