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Friday, December 16, 2016

The Best Christmas Store

I still keep in touch with a wonderful woman who I met through my parents' church. She's a warm and fun person who actually took over my mom's responsibilities at that church. We've forged our own relationship since the passing of my parents and I appreciate the friendship that has emerged. We met up for lunch recently and she shared with me that their church was doing this thing called The Christmas Store. The church partners with various organizations to provide gifts, food, and support to families in need here in the Coachella valley. She asked me if Doug and I would like to volunteer at it and we jumped at the chance. 
We ventured over to the church yesterday afternoon, unsure of what to expect, but excited about being able to be a part of an outreach opportunity. We were totally blown away by the scope, organization and effectiveness of this operation. Partnering with schools and other social agencies, families who need some help at Christmas are found and then issued an invitation to come to the church to "shop" for their kids. Of course, the goods are free to the families but they do get to pick stuff out which is so nice.Whole families come and while the parents are browsing the gifts, the kids are whisked away to hear the Christmas story, make a craft and play on the playground. Parents are then ushered into the rooms where the gifts are on display and begin to choose 2 gifts and a stocking stuffer for each child they have. After the gifts have been chosen, the gifts are brought down to the wrapping area (where Doug and I served) to be wrapped up and tagged. Finally, the parents are reunited with their kids, given grocery items and movie tickets for a special outing and off they go with well wishes for a happy holiday. Other highlights include getting a family photo taken and displayed on a card, something that lower income families rarely have the opportunity to do. Each family is also offered the chance to receive prayer and spiritual support from a group of trained volunteers. The families that come through are so deeply appreciative and truly delightful people. I was impressed by their joy and gratitude. 
It was really a gift for us to be there.
Each gift was new which was really nice. There was a huge array to choose from, all displayed in age appropriate areas. The amount of work that goes into having this event run like clockwork is staggering. Admittedly, it was awfully fun being on the volunteer end of things and not running the event!
As is always the case, the sense of camaraderie among the volunteers was really fun. I have always said that getting involved in something is the best way to get to know folks. We helped each other out when the gift box was especially full and it was really fun figuring out how to make the gifts look nice. Doug is truly the better wrapper in our family and many were impressed with his skills! 
The first box of gifts we received were for a family with two sets of twins! I found myself thinking about and praying for these kids as I wrapped up their gifts. It was a joy to think about how much better their Christmas morning would be because of the Christmas store at Our Savior's Community Church. The event goes on today and tomorrow too but we had other commitments. I am so glad it worked out for us to be there yesterday!
I am so grateful that my friend Pat told us about this event. And I am so thankful for Nancy, the project coordinator at the church, for her amazing efforts. I know she also shops on the day after Christmas to buy all of the paper, bows, ribbons, etc. for the next year. This is a labor of love that never stops!
It's a cliche, really, that it is truly more blessed to give than to receive and yet, yesterday was a day that was filled with joy and gratitude. We were deeply blessed to be a part of it. Now, if only we could see video of the families opening up their gifts on Christmas morning!