Alumni Profile • Pam DeBoer King '99, Lora Vanden Berg Dykstra '99, Jen Van Essen '99 & Tara Dyk Wegner '99
Suitemates make joy a tradition

It’s ironic, Pam DeBoer King ’99 said, that she should be telling the story of the Christmas party at all. When she and her three suitemates — Lora Vanden Berg Dykstra ’99, Jen Van Essen ’99 and Tara Dyk Wegner ’99 — first came up with the idea during the Christmas season of their sophomore year, they built anonymity into the plan.

The four agreed to pool the money they would have spent on token gifts for each other and to use it instead to help a family in need. But what family? Where? All were from out of town, attended Grand Rapids churches where they weren’t members and didn’t want to draw attention to themselves as generous college girls.

Pam remembered Dave Kool ’79, the outreach minister at Christ Memorial in Holland, the church her family attended in summer while vacationing there. He provided a list of 10 people whose holidays could be brightened by the suitemates’ gifts. With that connection, a tradition was set in motion.

Last December, the four women, still close friends, gathered in Holland to stage their seventh annual Christmas party at Maple Avenue Ministries, where Kool now serves. From the first, friends of King, Van Essen, Dykstra and Wegner — including non-Calvin friends and those who became spouses — wanted to help. A core group of 14 is still committed to the project five years after graduation.

It’s a weekend affair. On a Friday evening about a week before Christmas the group meets at Boston Market in Holland to eat together and divide up among themselves the 15 or so people on the list Maple Avenue Ministries has given them. They then fan out to area stores, often shopping till midnight for toys and clothes and gift certificates. Saturday they again gather to wrap presents and prepare for the party. At 6 p.m., at Maple Avenue Ministries, they meet their guests. Everyone eats together — usually pizza — then there are stories, songs and games, like Christmas Bingo. Gift opening follows, and finally the evening closes with prayer and thanks from everyone.

“There’s no joy like it,” King said of the group’s experience. “Instead of getting caught up in the craziness and busyness of the season we get caught up in the joy of giving just to be giving — and to people who have real, tangible needs. When we see how little they have but how much they do, and how much faith they have in God to provide — that’s an encouragement to us.”

The party, which goes on the party givers’ calendars in September and stays there as a “sacred event,” King said, has also changed the way she and other group members see and hear the news. “It’s definitely helped put a personal face on need. When you know families in hard financial or legal situations, you’re not so quick to judge or write them off. It’s humbling, because now I can put myself in their circumstances.”