Retired pastor donates more than 3,000 Christmas books to underprivileged children
Written by Emily Schappacher December 10, 2013
The Rev. Steve Burt
Thanks to the generosity of the Rev. Steven Burt, a retired United Church of Christ pastor in The Villages, Fla., 3,160 underprivileged children will receive an autographed book of their very own this holiday season. Known as New England's Christmas Story Pastor for his frequent readings of holiday stories in churches, retirement communities, and on the radio, it's only fitting that Burt should spread joy through his inspirational holiday stories with those who need it most.
"I'm a retired pastor with limited means, but they just happened to hit me in a place where I had resources and could make a difference," said Burt, who most recently served at the First Congregational Church of Lyme, in Lyme, Conn., before retiring in 2012. "A Christmas book of all things was ideal to have. The kids may hang on to it and treasure it for all I know."
Burt donated 3,000 copies of his book, A Christmas Dozen: Christmas Stories to Warm the Heart, to the United Way of Marion County's Pajamas and Books for Bedtime initiative, which serves the 5,200 children in central Florida who are homeless, live in transitional housing, or come from low-income families. Each child is given a book and a pair of new pajamas, which are seen as items that provide comfort, Burt said. As word of Burt's efforts spread, other organizations in need of book donations reached out, and he gave another 160 copies to North Lake Presbyterian Church in Lady Lake, Fla., and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Apopka, Fla.
"We thought we could give a couple books, but then it steamrolled from there and the next thing we knew we were signing away," said Burt. "We think it was for a good cause – well, three good causes actually."
Burt's writing was a hobby that became something bigger, he said, and he has written nearly 500 articles and stories throughout his career. The stories in A Christmas Dozen: Christmas Stories to Warm the Heart are a compilation of pieces Burt wrote during the years for Christmas Eve candlelight services, and for publications like Family Circle magazine, Reader's Digest and the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series. The book has won several awards, including an honorable mention in the spiritual book category from the New England Book Festival in 2010.
Burt hopes the stories in the book inspire the values of Christianity and the true meaning of Christmas. He notes the story of the "Magi's Gift," about a child who meets a man who is homeless and has to decide which of his three items to give to him, that teaches lessons of generosity and acceptance. But he also hopes that the book inspires the children in other ways as well. By receiving a book signed by the author, he says it may encourage them to want to be writers and authors too, and instill in them the idea that anything is possible – not just at Christmastime, but throughout the year.
"We see the long-term impact and the chance for literacy that this project has," Burt said. "I'm not going to try to change the whole world, but we can make change a little bit at a time."