Newsome says season is the time to unite, express the love of Christ by helping others

Published 8:54 pm Friday, December 16, 2022

Gary Newsome loves the pageantry of Christmas with all the lights and gift giving.

It’s something he hopes residents of Suffolk will help share with those in need this year, particularly local children.

Despite the changes in the world during his lifetime, Newsome, chaplain and director of spiritual life at Lake Prince Woods, believes Christmas gives everyone the opportunity and pause to first be thankful of the things they do have versus the things they don’t have.

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“It gives the opportunity for us to give of our time and resources to truly demonstrate the love of God not only to our immediate family but to strangers and neighbors,” he said. “Moreover, in a digital, coded world of communication, we are challenged to express our appreciation for each other in a close way, face-to-face, closeness and intentional words that uplift and encourage. This season of the year is not the happiest for many, so we must do what we can as united humans and express the love of Christ in the simplest form.”

This is what the Suffolk Cheer Fund is working to do again in 2023 as it aims to raise $40,000 to ensure all children have toys under their Christmas trees.

Now a resident of his parent’s hometown of Waverly, Newsome grew up in Brooklyn, New York where he had opportunities to enjoy special holiday memories in person that many only see on television.

“At the start of the Christmas season, my mom and dad would take my brother and I to Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan to see the Christmas tree with all the lights and pageantry,” he said. “This included taking pictures with Santa Claus, window shopping at Macy’s, and seeing the ice skaters in Lincoln Center.

But his first thought of Christmas now is how it has changed and evolved over the centuries. At his home as a child, he recalls how his family transformed it into a warm place where friends and family gathered.

“At home, my dad would have the music of Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and big band era icons playing Christmas songs in the backdrop,” Newsome recalled. “My mom would have this enormous Christmas tree with hazelnuts and hard candies in bowls located in the living room. The house would have the aroma of fresh rolls, turkey, and sweet potato pie that we would have for Christmas dinner.”

He recalls how their doorbell would ring constantly from neighbors, friends and relatives dropping by to spend some time and to give his family well wishes for the new season.

“People seemed to love our house because they were welcomed and valued,” he said. “As for my brother and I, it was the great anticipation of toys and gifts that we requested on Santa’s list. We ‘stumbled’ onto them in various hidden locations around the house but that’s another story!”

For many families today, Newsome’s wonderful experiences at Christmas in his childhood are mere dreams.

Newsome said helping children in Suffolk, and even those nationwide, is a huge endeavor and it should be a major focus for those who care about the community.

“8.4% of Suffolk, Virginia residents had an income below the poverty level in 2019, and this rate is 14% in all of Virginia, he said. “These alarming statistics affect the children in a big way, hindering growth and development in our schools, and makes an impact on the total well being of our kids, especially now with the increasing cost of living and inflation that we are currently experiencing.”

Newsome believes Christmas should provide hope and stability for the children and families.

For families in the city, he knows well and has personally experienced the outpouring of care and concern for the issues and challenges they face.

“Churches of all denominations, civic groups, grass roots organizations, school boards, and even retirement communities like Lake Prince Woods, have meaningful dialogues and programs to help,” Newsome said. “This is extremely important because it bands our community together for a common cause and we get to know each other in a fresh new way. The hope we have for Christmas we can put into ‘realtime’ not only for this season but for the years to come.”

The Cheer Fund was started by the newspaper during the Great Depression to provide clothes and food for needy families. It eventually began providing toys for children and teamed up with the Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army.

These days, this program of the newspaper is its own nonprofit, with an independent board, and each year collects roughly $40,000 from individuals, groups and foundations in the community. This money goes directly to the purchase of toys by the Salvation Army.

To donate to the Cheer Fund, send a check to P.O. Box 1220, Suffolk, VA 23439 or bring it to the newspaper office, 157 N. Main St., from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. We will list your donation in the newspaper, but it can be marked “anonymous” if you like.

Donations may be made in honor of or in memory of someone. If you bring the check to our office, we’ll even take your picture as you hand it to one of our staff.