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Tender Hearts makes Christmas come true for York-area families

Volunteer Ronnie Richardson from Elevation Church, left, helps Beverly Ortiz pick out toys for her four children, ages 7, 6, 4 and 1.
Volunteer Ronnie Richardson from Elevation Church, left, helps Beverly Ortiz pick out toys for her four children, ages 7, 6, 4 and 1.

Kate Thomas and her family have had a tough year. Her finance lost his construction job before Thanksgiving when the work slowed down, and her mother was hospitalized with congestive heart failure.

Her adopted daughter, Tabitha Turner, who is 28 and pregnant with twins, lost her two waitressing jobs, too, because she has been suffering from pulmonary hypertension, and can’t walk enough to do the work.

But all were grateful to be receiving help from Tender Hearts Ministries, a York charity that held its Christmas food and toy distribution Friday for more than 400 families.

Thomas, who is 40 and on disability for health problems, said she donated food to Tender Hearts last year because she believes that it makes a difference.

This year, she needs its help.

“This is how we have our Christmas dinner,” said Thomas, who was waiting to receive a bag of food and a turkey. “This is how my mom is having hers, and how my daughter is having hers.”

Thomas said she sees the help as a blessing. “They actually help people,” she said about Tender Hearts. “I’ve been a giver and a person who has received help. I’ve seen it work on both ends.”

Turner, who was waiting to receive both food and Christmas toys for two sons, age 7 and 9, said her family has been “barely getting by with the bills, but we’ve been making it.”

But Turner, like many of those waiting, said she was still optimistic that things would work out. “I can’t complain too much,” she said. “God provides everything when you need it.”

Tender Hearts president Ainslee Moss said this week marks the 10-year anniversary of the agency’s annual holiday food and toy distribution.

Families sign up to receive food at Thanksgiving and can come back in December for food, gifts for children and even Christmas trees while they last.

Parents or guardians can choose two toys and stocking stuffers for each child, with the help of a volunteer, Moss said.

“It gives them a sense of being a part of their child’s Christmas, because they get to choose,” she said. “It provides them what they want.”

Moss said she appreciates the support of businesses, churches and other groups that donated toys or cash to the project. She said many families are still struggling.

“This year, we had several companies in York go out of business or lay off people,” Moss said. “It’s important to know that people who give in our communty are giving back to those families, making sure that they are met with their needs and that the kids have toys for Christmas.”

Moss said the program served about 350 families last year, and this year, 402 signed up.

Food and gifts that are not distributed through Tender Hearts will go to help a dozen or more additional families through the York Police Department, she said.

Wendall Womble, 68, of McConnells, showed up to receive food for himself and his wife, who is recovering from surgery. Social Security is their only income, he said, and after bills are paid, there isn’t much left for food.

“It helps us a great deal,” said Womble, who grows vegetables to supplement their food budget and to give to other people. “If it was not for this, we’d be eating turnips more.”

April Lee, 38, of York, said the project means Christmas for her daughter, 10, and son, 14. Her fiance is out of work and they have been behind on rent, she said.

“I am trying,” said Lee, but she said providing Christmas for her children has been difficult. With the help of Tender Hearts, she said, “they are happy. Their eyes light up.”

Cynthia Wallace of Clover, who is 63 and disabled, said she came to get food and some Christmas gifts for her teenage grandson, who lives with her.

“It gives me faith, it gives me strength,” Wallace said. “It keeps me knowing that there are still good people out there to help.”

Want to help?

Donations to Tender Hearts Ministries can be made through the web site,, or by mailing checks to Tender Hearts at P.O. Box 634, York SC 29745.