The basement of Westbury United Methodist Church was roaring with about 200 people Christmas afternoon, as children pushed past one another to get to donated toys during the celebration the church has hosted for 13 years.
For the past four Christmases, the church has partnered with the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, providing families with a hot, hearty meal, toys for the kids, thick blankets, groceries, clothing and shopping gift cards.
“This is awesome, but this is hectic,” Dr. Isma Chaudhry, chairwoman of the board of trustees for the center, said over the noise. The partnership works because, despite their religious differences, both houses of worship are serving the same community, she said.
“We’re in Westbury, they’re in Westbury. They’re all our neighbors.”
Rose Walker, co-chair of staff-pastor parish relations for the church, said that, unlike food pantries, the church gives people fully prepared meals once a year.
“There are people who could not take a turkey home to cook for their families,” she said. “There are families that are homeless, there are children that are homeless.”
The toys and other supplies came from donations throughout the year, Walker said, including from church members, the Islamic center, the community, local businesses and the office of Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury).
In addition to the five-course lunch, there were games, one of which involved the pastor, the Rev. Elon Sylvester, shouting questions like, “Who stole Christmas?” and “In what town was Jesus born?” as kids either raised their hands or shouted an answer back.
Sammy, 8, recently arrived from Honduras and is living in Westbury with his mother. He doesn’t speak English but raised his hand to answer a question every time he saw other kids do so.
He proudly showed his new toy: a Matchbox car set complete with a plastic racetrack, “the kind you see on TV,” he said through an interpreter.
Sylvester said he hopes the partnership between the Christian and Muslim groups can inspire others from different backgrounds to collaborate.
“We want to focus on the things we have in common,” he said. “We come together in this small circle and hope this becomes contagious.”