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Matthew Project holiday gift drive for students in need, in its 12th year

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Much like Santa Claus, Monte Patterson of Brooksville has made a list, and he’s checking it twice–determined to provide a happy and joyous Christmas for Hernando County children in need.

Patterson is the creator and administrator of the Matthew Project, which since 2010 has provided Christmas gifts for homeless and impoverished children served through the Hernando County schools’ backpack food program. This year’s Matthew Project campaign runs Nov. 26 through Dec. 10.

“This year we’ll be serving between 450 to 600 students,” said Patterson, also known as the “The Voice of HHS Leopard Football” and the owner of Blinds and Designs. “The lists are streaming in from the schools.”
Patterson has discovered that student wishes for gifts run the gamut. “It’s sad to see requests for the basics,” said Patterson. “Some kids ask for socks and underwear, school supplies, the basics. Or, they might ask for gifts they can give their mothers, maybe their little brothers and sisters.”

On the opposite side of the spectrum, some kids seek those presents that promise to brighten their childhoods. “A lot of kids ask for sports balls, dolls, video games,” said Patterson. “Once in a while, you might get a request for an Xbox.”

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The Matthew Project has come a long way since its inception in 2010 when a friend associated with the Hernando school district’s backpack food project suggested that he spearhead an effort to provide holiday gifts to needy kids.
“The first year, we had a list of about 85 kids, given to us just after Thanksgiving. I thought, “Wow, I don’t know if this can be done,” he said. “But we did it.”

The Matthew Project is a family-run, all-volunteer effort that has been successful every year on behalf of children and teens in need. Each year, community volunteers representing churches, community groups, clubs, and individuals step forward to claim the wish lists of area children. Then, bearing the first names, clothing sizes, and three-item gift wish lists of these young beneficiaries, they shop for and supply the gifts that will brighten the holidays of these precious children.

In the process, the Matthew Project has changed lives. “Once, we helped a grandmother on oxygen, who lived in the woods with her grandson,” he said. “She prayed for her grandson to receive gifts for Christmas. We made sure he got gifts. The first year of the program, a kid asked for a grill so his family could cook meals. We also helped a teenage girl with a one-item wishlist. She wanted a job. We provided her with leads, as well as clothes and hygiene products she could use for interviews.”
And administrators also go the extra mile to fill the wish lists of every child beneficiary, even if they have to visit stores late in the evening before their deadline. “Sometimes when Christmas time comes, we might not have had time to put up decorations at our house,” he said, “But we want to make sure that every kid on the project list gets Christmas.”

Patterson, his wife Alisa, and their team at Matthew Project see their efforts as spiritual, inspirational, and rewarding.
“When you give, it makes you feel better than the person who receives,” said Patterson. “It’s all about fulfilling a God-given calling to make sure that every child has a merry Christmas.” Those interested in sponsoring children for this year’s Matthew Project or who would like to volunteer should text the word “sponsor” to 352-279-5985. You will find more information on Facebook under The Matthew Project: Gifts for Homeless Children.

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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