"This is what it's about" Tuesday, December 25, 2007
By MEG HUELSMAN Courier-Post Staff, Camden
CAMDEN Christmas Eve brought a knock on the door for many families in a North Camden neighborhood. Children in the homes grabbed their coats and followed one of nearly 200 volunteers to a Christmas extravaganza thrown by New Covenant Ministries. The youngsters lined up along the side of a fenced-in yard at Rafael Cordero Molino School at 7th and Elm streets. They waited for a helper to hand them a big red stocking -- bigger than some toddlers in the crowd. The children first chose a toy from a large trailer filled with stuffed animals, buckets of Barbie dolls and piles of basketballs. And once they turned the corner, escorted by their personal volunteer, the eyes of all the children, toddlers to teens, widened and their jaws dropped. Nearly 800 repaired, cleaned, shining, practically new bikes greeted them -- pink, blue, purple, red, silver, black with chrome designs and more. "Eeeee," screeched 4-year-old Jason Lamberty when he saw the long rows of bicycles. He held a new Batman doll in one hand as he let go of his father's hand and catapulted toward the lot. Jason's family, including his sister, Cyannie, 10, and brother Michael, 12, moved recently after their apartment was robbed and ransacked, said Tirson Lamberty, the kids' dad. The event gave them several gifts they might not otherwise have had. New Covenant Ministries founder Tommy Williams, 62, wandered through the madness Monday morning dressed in a cowboy hat with a bright neon strip tied around his arm." This is what it's about," he said, giving hugs to strangers and patting kids on their backs as they streamed by. "This is Christmas. This is what we do. This is what I wait for all year." Dozens of stories -- including a mother recently diagnosed with cancer, a father who was providing for his four children alone, and a mom who was having a tough time making ends meet this year -- flowed freely among the adults, who might have had even brighter smiles than their children. "This is amazing," said Susana Alicea, hugging her son. "I've been blessed, truly blessed." Next, armed with their new wheels, the children moved toward several picnic tables lined with brightly colored hats, gloves and scarves. Each child grabbed his or her pick, and most, because of the bitter early-morning winds, put them on. Bundled with pink, blue, orange and yellow hats and gloves, the kids approached a table filled with wrapped gifts labeled either "Mom" or "Dad." The kids grabbed gifts for their parents, an opportunity, Williams said, for them to give back to the ones they loved, too. Next stop? Santa Claus. With a "Ho, Ho, Ho," Santa lifted each young child on to his lap while the older kids moved on toward the food table to enjoy hot cocoa, coffee, candy canes and doughnuts. Parents -- mostly moms -- sifted through new and used clothing while their children tested their bikes, wiped foam from the hot cocoa off their lips or proudly showed off their new toys. In one corner, pastors offered communion and spiritual guidance to those who asked. The children then returned home with arms filled with presents and big, bright Christmas smiles. Williams grew up in Lawnside, and after what he refers to as his "rumble and tumble" years, he started the ministry. Each week he goes out to the corners in Camden, armed with gifts and clothes, and gives to those in need. The corners, like the site of Christmas Eve carnival, are chosen at random. He goes where he feels there is a need and then, when he is approached by community members, tells them of his God, his Savior and his love for Christ. On Monday morning, Williams stood atop a concrete wall, spread his arms and spoke to the hundreds of volunteers ready to greet the neighborhood." This is about spreading the word," he said to the crowd. "Tell the people to open their doors and get the children ready. Tell them to have a blessed Christmas. But don't give any glory to this ministry. All of the glory is for Him." Reach Meg Huelsman at (856) 251-3345 or firstname.lastname@example.org
"Ministry's bike giveaway takes shape" Tuesday, Oct 9, 2007
By MEG HUELSMAN Courier-Post Staff, CAMDEN
New Covenant Ministries founder Tommy Williams, 62, gives hugs to prostitutes, the destitute, children, friends and strangers. And, every Christmas Eve he gives presents and bicycles to Camden's kids and homeless. It's a big project, collecting bikes and presents, food and toys, in preparation for the annual celebration. That's why dozens of volunteers from Calvary Chapel of Delaware County joined with Williams and volunteers from the New Covenant Ministry in Cherry Hill on Saturday afternoon to scrub, repair and test 600 bikes in preparation for the annual Christmas Eve bash. Williams scrubbed dirt and rust from the frame of a bicycle. Ed Evans, 21, of Media, Pa., used tire shine to make the bikes rims sparkle. Will Tolbert, 26, of Brookhaven, Pa., worked on the bikes while 19-year-old Steve Evans, 19, of Media, Pa., washed the handlebars. "We've been doing this for 40 years, collecting gifts and food," said Williams, who grew up in Audubon Park and now heads New Covenant Ministry. "We never need a collection because everyone involved helps out." Williams, who described himself as "a firm believer in a lot of hugs," said the idea to distribute bikes started 40 years ago when he had about five bikes in his cellar. Since then, the event has grown, he said. Different South Jersey police departments donate bikes confiscated but unclaimed during the year to the project while residents donate children's bikes their kids outgrow. Sometimes the ministry purchases new bikes from yard sales and auctions." Some years, God sends in anywhere from 150 to 200 people," he said. "Most parents can afford a $20 gift, but they can't afford the big one, and the kids love the bikes." Williams goes into Camden each weekend, setting up tables of food and donated clothing at different neighborhoods in the city. It's never the same corner, he said." We go into any corner, and that's where we'll set up tables, give out the clothes," he said. "Everyone knows. We pick a corner based on where the Lord tells us to go." Williams grew up in a rough neighborhood in Audubon Park. When he was in his 20s, a near-death experience made him change his rough-and-tumble ways." When I was young, I was living in a really tough town. Audubon Park was tough," he said. "When I found the Lord, I had all of this love in my heart, and when I was in Camden, it just touched me." New Covenant Ministries plans for the Christmas Eve event for months, but Williams said he never discloses the neighborhood intended for the surprise until the actual day of the event." We never know what section of the city we will do it in," Williams said. "But whatever lot we hit, we knock on every door." Each child gets a hat, gloves, a new toy, a bike and a wrapped present to take home to their parents, along with a stuffed animal. There's food and coffee, juice and a treat. "I love to set up every child with an adult," on the day of the event, Williams said. "That adult makes them feel like they are the most special kid in the world. You just keep making them feel special; it's their day." Williams is full of stories. He tells of how mothers have cried at the event and how children have reacted when given the gifts. He knows to watch for the drug dealers eyeing up the new clothing and the intimate details of the poorest neighborhoods. "One day, I was in the city and I watched two prostitutes come over to our tables and get a hot dog and some coffee," Williams said. "As they were walking away, I heard one say that this was the only place they could walk on the lot, get a real good hug and get some food. That's what it's about. I've never walked in their shoes. I don't know what they're going through. But they get a hug. Everyone gets a hug," Williams said.
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