Yarrott Benz, Phyllis Trout, John Jones, Maureen Mullen and Daphne Taylor from Friends Seminary, 1994

12.3.16 / Volunteer

Friends Seminary Brightens the Holidays

For almost 25 years, our friends at Friends Seminary have been decorating holiday bags for our clients. The program started with just 40 bags, and today they decorate more than 1,000 each year!

This generous tradition brings so much joy and light to the holiday season. But it was born during a very dark time in the early 1990s, when so many in our community were being diagnosed with and dying from HIV/AIDS. John Jones, the art teacher at Friends, was a gay man living with HIV who decided to do
something for the community. One day, he shared with his lower school students that many of his friends were sick, and it would cheer them up if they got their Christmas dinner in a festive bag decorated by them. And just like that, the John Jones Holiday Bag Decorating Program began.

The staff, administration and students at Friends embraced John’s project. As longtime English teacher John Byrne says, “John was an inspiration and living testament that you can light a candle in the dark.”

After the first year’s enthusiasm and support, Friends adopted it as a yearly tradition. Now, more than 1,000 decorated bags are displayed each year in the Meetinghouse before being delivered to God’s Love.

The program has become a teachable moment for the children and the community. Byrne tells us, “It was a time to show kids that they could take their compassion and focus it, to actually make a difference in the lives of other people. Kids want to do the right thing; they want to help. Kids aren’t afraid. They hear of someone suffering, and they say “What can we do?” John was brilliant in harnessing that. He was our guide – for the administration, for the
teachers – and he gave us a way to fight that terrible, bleak despair of that period. So, for us, the school is very much a family and a community.”

What John taught, and what everyone at Friends knows, is that we are not powerless. We can all help someone else. A decoration on a bag can change someone’s day, and this project can change someone’s life.

Thank you, John and everyone at Friends, for this yearly tradition that brings so much joy and love to our clients, and has inspired thousands of holiday bags decorated throughout the city. Our clients’ lives are brighter for your efforts.

Find out how you can get involved during the holiday season by visiting

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