In our Outreach Spotlight series, we are highlighting some of the ways that Crossroads teams have creatively reached out to the families of the kids they are serving. Our hope is to share ideas and inspire others to think of ways to serve their broader communities of families and schools. This article features Calvary Baptist Church in Elgin; Team Leader Jenn Schneider shares about the Family Christmas Store that they have been running for the past 5 years.
Tell me about the Family Christmas Store outreach your church has started.
Our church has an annual event each December where we create a “store” in our church for families of our Kids Club to come and shop for their children. Each family can choose one to two gifts per child and they purchase it with their own money at about 10-20% of the retail price.
Who benefits from this outreach?
Primarily it’s for the families of the kids in our club. We’ve also talked to the school social worker to help us identify families in the school that might be really in need and could be invited.
Even though the kids are the ones receiving the presents, the parents are primarily the ones we are serving. Many families who aren’t able to afford presents for their kids are blessed by this opportunity to buy brand new gifts for their children at a fraction of the cost.
How do you collect the gifts?
Through the church, we collect donations of toys and some people give cash. We don’t go around asking kids what their wish list is, and it’s not like a giving tree where they pick the toys for the children. Basically I set up an Amazon and Target wish list online of all kinds of gifts for the age groups. Then I share it with church members and we share it on social media. What we try to get is two to three gifts per child so the store is well stocked. People pick items from the wish list that fit their budget and once it’s purchased the item gets sent right to the church.
When does this happen?
We start our planning in October and create those wish lists. Then right around Thanksgiving we start pushing for the donations and we start inviting parents to make appointments for the day of the store. We require them to make appointments so that our volunteers can create a positive experience and one on one attention for each family. We have found that the first week of December tends to be the best time to have the store day, and Friday or Saturday evenings seem to have high participation.
What happens on the day of the “store”?
We set up a space inside the church for the store, and we try to make it an experience for the parents. I have collected Christmas trees and decorations and we have a decorating and set up day. There’s the store where parents view and purchase items, a wrapping station, a cafe area and a kids room.
On the day of the store, families who have been invited and called ahead to set an appointment are welcome to come and shop. Three or four parents or grandparents are shopping at a time and the items are set out for them to shop. Everything is priced at about 10-20% of the retail price. So a $10 Barbie doll would be $2 for the parent. We try to have a variety of price ranges. Then, each parent can choose two gifts per child. Once the parents have paid, someone walks you over to the cafe where volunteers are serving cookies, hot cocoa, coffee and you can hang out and interact with the volunteers from the church and moms from the community while volunteers wrap the presents for the parents. Volunteers bring the presents and carry them out to the car for them. During this time, their kids are in a “childcare” room playing, watching Elf, do a craft, have a snack, etc. During break times, we replenish the store so the last families through have a similar experience and options.
What do you do with the funds raised?
It’s really a service to the school – empowering the families to be able to shop for their own kids and take ownership by choosing the gifts and using their own money. Also, the school has been able to use funds that we’ve raised for a number of different projects such as landscaping, painting, etc.
Can you share a story of impact?
One of the years a mom who was disabled and on an oxygen tank was able to get her teenage son to bring her. The mom found an American girl doll for her thirteen year old daughter for about $30. The mom was moved to tears about the doll but the teenage son didn’t want to let her buy it for the daughter because he said his sister was “too old” for that. The mom said “I don’t care because my daughter has wanted an American girl doll since she was three years old and I’ve never been able to buy her one because we’ve never been able to afford it. I can afford this.” That’s when I saw the power of the parents being able to choose for their kids.
Any advice for others who might want to try something like this?
Think through what to do with any leftovers in a way that is still honorable to the donors who’ve purchased these items to help others. One thing we’ve done is donate a box of the toys to the school and give it to the social worker. Another thing we’ve done is save a box for the next year’s store.
It’s also been a great way to engage the church as a whole in serving the families. People who can’t come to volunteer at a club during the year can come help at the store, wrap presents, donate gifts, etc.
We’ve definitely had ups and downs and learned a lot through trial and error. This last year was our smoothest year, and we’ve really committed to covering it in prayer.