Agreed to Differ, Resolved to Love and United to Serve

Christmas in September History


The Tucson Unit of Church Women United has a unique celebration that has continued for nearly 50 years.

From the minutes of Board meetings, the first mention of the work with migrant workers took place on April 2, 1954. "Mrs. Albert Bell, State Chairman of Migrant work gave a most interesting talk on the migrant workers, and of the many ways in which a group such as ours could help solve some of the many needs." Apparently, this expression of the need led to action, as it so often does in CWU, because on October 21, 1955, we read, "Mrs. Burch and Mrs. Carstens reported on the progress of Pima County migrant work. It was decided to bring toys for migrant children to the December meeting."

By 1957, it was evident that many migrant workers became residents and the mission was known as Migrant and Agriculture Workers Ministry. Teams from various churches went once a week to the following migrant camps: Anway (Broadway Christian Church); Rillito (Trinity Presbyterian); Marana (Marana Christian and First Christian), Sahuarita (Lutheran Church of the King, First Congregational, and Our Saviour's Lutheran); Continental (Catalina Methodist); John Kai (St. Mark's Presbyterian, St. Philip's Episcopal) and Bing K. Wong (Northminster Presbyterian). On a monthly basis, churches went to the Indian villages of Vamori (Broadway Christian); Sells (Northminster Presbyterian); and Santa Rosa (Sylvia Jarvis/Mt. Olive Lutheran).

The teams taught sewing, crafts, cooking, nutrition, health and sanitation. At first, the teams took household items, clothing, bedding, mattresses, etc. on their visits, but, later, thrift shops were set up in all the camps. The teams also brought people in to Tucson for commodities distribution. Generally, there was a devotional time during the day at the camp.

In the early 1960s, a "Spring Luncheon" was instituted to which the women came from the camps and Indian villages. They would bring traditional foods to share and women from the churches supplemented with salads. The women from the camps often presented fashion shows proudly modeling the clothing they had made. They would bring their children as well and everyone enjoyed seeing the children grow and develop. A great part of this ministry was encouraging the women to achieve a sense of dignity and self-worth, empowering them to achieve THEIR goals.

At the board meeting in June of 1960, the board voted to hold the gift in-gathering early because of a visit from a national leader and called it "Christmas in September". And, so, there were now two celebrations—the Spring Luncheon in April and Christmas in September for the gift in-gathering.

The women of United Church Women and those with whom they became friends in the farm labor camps and Indian villages accomplished their goals. There came a time, in the late 1980s, when there was no longer a need to go out and minister in this particular way. That is a wonderful thing. It is what we hope will happen with any ministry that uplifts. The women remained friends, and kept in touch; and learned about children going on to colleges and universities. There were also programs begun by the Farm Labor and Indian Ministry to provide scholarships for summer camp, sending nearly 50 migrant children, programs to send children on special trips to Disneyland and San Diego Zoo and, last, but, not least, scholarships for higher education through WICS and on an individual basis. Also, because of the expertise of the women in the migrant ministry, they were asked to meet with federal officials to institute the Food Stamp program in Arizona.

The last person to go out to the former migrant camp at Sahuarita, Mary Kocher, of First Congregational Church, finished her work after 22 and 1/2 years in May 1988. Sylvia Jarvis continued to go to Santa Rosa on the Indian reservation until 1999.

Because of the national CWU Imperative, Women and Children in Poverty begun in 1988, Christmas in September changed its focus. We still have the in-gathering of toys/books/puzzles, etc. for children and youth, but the recipients are now children who have been victims of abuse or are homeless or "at-risk". Because the women and children need to be safe, we do not have the inter-action that we had with the migrant, farm labor, and Native American women. However, the response is still forth-coming; and the love and appreciation which shines from the eyes of a child is what we think about as we bring our gifts and money to this Christmas in September celebration. We also remember all the women over the last 50 years who have given and who have received and then given themselves.