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Canyon View Church Pastor Jim Smith poses in front of a small portion of the $30,000 worth of gifts and food the Hamilton church delivered to people Monday for the Christmas holiday.

HAMILTON – A little more than two weeks ago, Canyon View Church Pastor Jim Smith received a challenge.

A few Christian businessmen said they were willing to give $30,000 to the church if its parishioners were willing to make sure it went to good use in the Bitterroot Valley over the holidays.

“They said there were a lot of people in need in the valley and many may not even be able to have Christmas,” Smith said. “With that amount of money, I thought we could do a lot of good in Jesus’ name.”

His congregation was happy to take up the challenge.

In less than two weeks, they organized an outreach program that put nearly 100 volunteers to work shopping, bagging food, wrapping presents and working with local organizations to identify people who could use the help.

On Monday, they delivered.

Somewhere close to 50 families came to the church on Skalkaho Highway to collect the bags of food and presents that would make their Christmas whole.

Other members of the congregation picked up another 50 bags of food to participate in what the church called "Random Acts of Christian Kindness."

They spread out around the community to look for people in need.

Kevin Bisel of Hamilton was one of several who walked up to random homes and knocked on doors to ask those inside if they could use food for Christmas.

“There were tears,” Bisel remembered. “People told us they could really use the food. They said times are hard. One of the families I delivered food to didn’t have a dinner planned for Christmas yet. They had tears in their eyes when we handed them the bags.”

All across town, parishioners were walking up to strangers at convenience stores or on the sidewalk to ask if they could give them bags filled with ham, pies, potatoes, rolls – everything they’d need for a nice holiday dinner.

“Everyone I talked to afterward said the same thing,” Bisel said. “The people they met were tearing up and crying. They were very appreciative and thankful.”

***

Bisel is new to the valley. He and his family moved here a little more than a year ago. He’s been struck by the number of good-hearted people his family has found in the Bitterroot.

“This is just one little piece,” he said. “There have been dozens and dozens of these kinds of things happening here this holiday season. It’s just been unbelievable.”

Smith said it was important that people on the receiving end knew there were no strings attached to the gifts.

“We’ve learned that there is a lot of need in this valley,” Smith said. “When people come together and put their petty differences aside, some great things can happen in Christ’s name.”

Smith was at the church when people came in to pick up their gifts and food packages.

“There were some tears, lots of smiles and quite a few hugs,” he said. “Some told us that no one had ever done this kind of thing for them before. They were grateful and thankful.”

Those on the receiving end weren’t the only ones who left that night feeling blessed.

“I think the people on the giving side received just as much or more from this,” Smith said.

The Bible says, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”

“That’s absolutely true,” Smith said. “This is the kind of event that connects people with other people. It’s easy for people to write a check and say they’re done, but there can be so much more. When you connect with real live people and their real live needs, it changes you.

“I think we received as much and probably more blessing than the recipients,” he said. “I see this as just the beginning. I want this to be part of what we do, part of our DNA. It’s what Christ would do, I think.”

Smith hopes for even more cooperation between Christians and other churches in the valley in making sure these kinds of outpourings of love and kindness will continue throughout the year.

“Our deeds matter as much or more than our words,” Smith said. “I don’t know how you can argue against this kind of love that comes with no strings attached.”

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