An Illinois church has refused a donation of Christmas toys and other household goods for poor families because the donations came from a bar, the Peoria Journal Star is reporting.
For almost 40 years, Operation Sleighbell has helped needy families in east-central Illinois and west-central Indiana make ends meet during the holiday season by providing donated toys and household necessities, which the families can then buy for between $1 and $5.
The program is headquartered out of a Baptist church in the nearby city of Champaign. Affiliated Baptist congregations in other cities manage the program locally. In Peoria, that job fell to Laramie Baptist Church.
As it turns out, a member of the Laramie congregation happened to be friends with Dixie Cole, owner of Cole’s Corner Tap, a Peoria bar that’s long on shots and beer and short on much else.
A couple of years ago, that friend told Dixie about the program, and Cole decided her patrons could get behind it. Three Christmases ago — the first year they participated in the program — the bar patrons gathered up about 200 different toys and items. It helped that Dixie offered her patrons a free drink in exchange for each donation.
That first year, Christmas 2014, and the following year, Cole’s donations went off without a hitch. A member of the church would call her at some point before Christmas and tell Dixie when to meet her at a Peoria grocery store to drop off the donations. Afterward, Pastor Rick Smith of Judson Chapel, the founder of Operation Sleighbell, would stop by the bar to say thank you (and skip the drinks).
“He thanked me for all that we did.”
This year, however, things have been different. When Thanksgiving came and went and Dixie hadn’t heard anything, she started getting concerned. Then it got to be early December, and she still hadn’t heard from her Baptist friends. She started making phone calls.
Last week, Cole got a hold of someone at Laramie Baptist, who told her “not to bother” bringing her donation. Whoever answered the phone told Dixie that the church did not accept donations from bars.
So why is Dixie suddenly having problems donating her toys this year when she had no problems the previous two years? Long story short: The pastor of Laramie Baptist had retired, and the new, interim pastor, Joe Gardner, delegated the Operation Sleighbell duties to a layperson at another Peoria church, Dayton Avenue Baptist Church.
It took some phone calls from Journal Star reporter Phil Luciano to get to the bottom of what went wrong. Luciano spoke to Henrietta Dinzler, the Operation Sleighbell coordinator at Dayton Avenue. She said that Smith, the man who founded the program, had given her and other coordinators discretion about accepting donations. And after she “prayed about it,” she decided that the donation from the bar was not welcome.
“According to our church covenant, we will not buy or use alcoholic beverage for the purposes of getting drunk. I just felt the Lord leading me to turn down the donations for a bar.”
For Dixie Cole, that didn’t make much sense, considering that east-central Illinois isn’t exactly short on need families.
“I thought it was insane. It shouldn’t matter where the toys come from. There are a lot of needy kids out there.”
Fortunately for Dixie and her patrons, another Peoria charity — the Children’s Home — wasn’t concerned about where the donation of toys came from, and they were glad to have them.
“I told them where the toys were coming from. They didn’t care.”
Do you believe the Illinois charity was right to refuse a donation of toys that came from a bar? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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