Each year, First Parish in Wayland collects gifts for the families supported by REACH Beyond Domestic Violence, a Waltham-based nonprofit. The organization serves 7,000 people per year in 27 towns through a combination of intervention and prevention services. One such service is an Emergency Shelter Program for clients who are not safe in their own homes. The shelter offers a range of offerings designed to provide immediate safety, meet the needs of victims, and to help them gain independence.

In past years, the congregation has received requests from REACH families, printed them on paper candy canes and parishioners have selected one or more from a tree in the vestry, in a tradition called “Undecorate the Tree.” Parishioners then buy the requested items, which often include household goods, blankets, clothing, boots, books and toys. A team of volunteers organizes the items and delivers them to REACH.

Last year, one recipient sent First Parish a thank you, which said, in part: “Even though we are strangers, you made a big difference in our life this holiday season. It was not just the material items; it was the fact that you have also given us hope and belief. For my son, it was that Santa is real, and for me, it was that there are still great people in the world. You were our Santa who fulfilled our dreams for that day, and we will never forget it.”

COVID-19 has increased the financial burdens facing many survivors of domestic violence, creating an even greater need this year for holiday gifts. Accordingly, First Parish will continue this beloved tradition, but in an altered format.

REACH has requested that, instead of physical gifts, donors focus their gift-giving programs solely on donations of gift cards from Target. This will allow the organization – and the congregation – to continue to provide financial assistance to families who need it while prioritizing the physical safety of donors, their staff, and survivors.

If you’d like to support First Parish’s efforts, volunteers will be staffing a drive-through drop off at First Parish (225 Boston Post Rd., Wayland) on November 21 from 2-4 p.m. (Rain date: November 22 from 2-4 p.m.) Volunteers will be located at the carriage sheds on the far side of the church. Drop off a $25 Target gift card and you’ll get a cookie or candy cane! Or, you can drop off cash and volunteers will convert it into gift cards. Please wear masks.

Alternatively, you can donate directly to REACH at https://reachma.salsalabs.org/donatetoreach.

Questions? Email the First Parish Office at office@uuwayland.org.

We’ll all miss many special holiday traditions this year, but we can still help bring holiday cheer and financial support to families, even in their darkest days.