The Christmas Store: A Better Way to Adopt a Family at Christmas

The Christmas Store Potential Items for Sale

During the Christmas season, our awareness of the needs of others is heightened. Many Christians and churches look for opportunities to “adopt” children or families in need and provide Christmas gifts for them. But we don’t always think about how the way we give can actually hurt the family we’re trying to bless.

The Year We Gave Christmas and Stole Dignity

Early in our marriage, my wife and I felt led to “adopt” a mom from our church and bless her family with a “good Christmas.” Her husband was incarcerated and she struggled financially to make ends meet each month.

We asked her if we could provide Christmas gifts for her and her four young kids and she said that she’d be grateful for our help. So we asked her for some gift ideas and then went shopping.

We had a blast and bought some great gifts, if I do say so myself. It felt great thinking about how we were helping this mom provide for her family. It felt great as we imagined the looks on the kids’ faces when they saw the gifts we brought them. It felt great as we knocked on the door, yelled “Merry Christmas,” and then brought in all the gifts.

And then . . . it didn’t feel so great, when we saw the look on the mom’s face. Feelings of overwhelm. Embarrassment. Maybe even a bit of resentment.

I firmly believe that her response wasn’t at all because she was ungrateful for the gifts we bought for her and her family.

I think it was because we had the joy of giving the gifts and she didn’t. It was that the kids looked at us with those amazing eyes of wonder in that moment, instead of looking at her with that same kind of gratitude on Christmas morning.

You may be thinking, “Well, you did ask her if she wanted your help, and she agreed.” And yes, you’re absolutely right.

But we left their home that night asking ourselves, “Is there a better way to help low-income parents provide Christmas gifts for their children?”

The Christmas Store

Fast forward a few years to when I began serving as the pastor of congregational and community care at a large suburban church.

Families from the community were calling our church asking if we can provide Christmas gifts for their kids, and small groups and families within our church were calling me asking for ways to help.

Over the years we’ve tried several different kinds of adopt-a-family projects like the “Angel Trees” that are so popular, to match up families in need with people who want to help.

And we made a few changes along the way to hopefully give the parents more dignity, like having the volunteers bring the gifts to the parents privately instead of doing it in front of the family.

But I still wondered if there was a better way that actually empowered low-income parents to be able to provide the gifts themselves.

And then I discovered the Christmas Store, thanks to Bob Lupton, who described the concept at the Christian Community Development Association conference a number of years ago.

The Christmas store gives low-income parents the dignity and pride of being able to buy Christmas gifts for their kids at bargain prices, thanks to donors who provided the gifts.

Bob pioneered the Christmas Store, which he calls “Pride for Parents,” 30 years ago through the urban ministry he founded, FCS Ministries, which works in the South Atlanta community.

How the Christmas Store Works

Any church or ministry can host a Christmas store to empower low-income parents to shop for Christmas gifts for their family. The Christmas store can easily be scaled to serve any number of participants: 10 families, 50, 100, or more. And it can be customized a number of different ways. Here are the basic elements you’ll need to make your Christmas store a success:

1. Form a team.

The first step is to form a team of people who will help organize and run your ministry’s Christmas store. The size of your team will largely depend on how many families you hope to serve.

2. Schedule a date for when your church or ministry will host its Christmas store.

It’s probably best to schedule the Christmas Store about three weeks before Christmas. While it may be too late to do that this year, save this article as a reminder for next year!

You’ll also need to identify a room or location that will give you enough space to display the toys and allow people to walk through to do their shopping.

2. Host a toy party in mid-November to collect donated gifts.

Invite church members, businesses, and the public to attend your Toy Party (featuring Christmas food or snacks) and bring new (or gently used) toys and gifts to donate to the Christmas store.

3. Promote the Christmas Store shopping day to your community.

Invite low-income families from your church and community to come to the Christmas Store to shop for their family’s Christmas gifts. If you feel that you need to limit the number of families you can serve, be sure to note that in your promotional materials, and invite families to call to register in advance.

4. Set prices for each item.

To make each gift as affordable as possible, FCS recommends setting your prices somewhere between garage sale price and wholesale price.

5. Host your Christmas Store.

Finally, the day has come. Make it a fun, festive time for the parents who come to shop. Take the time to get to know the families and invite them to attend your church or to take advantage of other opportunities your ministry has to offer. And when it’s all over, celebrate the fact that you gave low-income parents the gifts of dignity and pride as they were empowered to shop for affordable gifts for their children.

The Christmas Store concept is gaining momentum across the nation, as more and more churches want to move beyond the traditional “Adopt a Family” to do something that gives parents a hand up instead of a hand out.

The Christmas Store does take a little more work than “Adopt a Family” to organize, but in our church’s experience, it was well worth the effort to be able to help parents help themselves.

Does your church do “Adopt a Family,” the Christmas Store, or something else to provide gifts for low-income families at Christmas? How has it made a difference for your church and the families you served? Leave a comment!

  1. marsha

    So is there a mechanism to make sure that low income families shop and not those with more means looking for a bargain? Or do we care? How is that aspect managed? I take care of this ministry at our church and really love the concept. We do the traditional Angel tree program.

    • Rich Avery

      Marsha, great question. Our church targeted the promotion/advertisement of the Christmas Store to some specific low-income mobile home parks and apartment complexes nearby. And I think Bob Lupton’s FCS Ministries limited theirs to people in the target neighborhood where they worked.

  2. Laraba

    This is an interesting article and the Christmas store looks like a good option. However, I have known families who were very grateful when someone dropped off gifts for their kids, so I don’t think it has to be a problem. I just got an email from a single mom of 7 children who had someone show up at her door today with gifts and a bunch of food, and she is very grateful with no trace of embarrassment. I’m a mom of 8 myself (though thankfully our income is stable and sufficient) and in a similar situation I think I’d prefer the “drop off” route because when time is incredibly tight, going to some place on a specific day without the kids to buy gifts would be difficult.

    So I think what you did with that first family can work just fine. Probably depends on the specific family.

    • Rich Avery

      Laraba, thanks for sharing your thoughts. What I really love about the Christmas store is that it empowers low-income parents to provide for themselves instead of relying on the charity of others. I’m glad you mentioned the kids, because I forgot to say that our church provided an activity for the kids in another room, so they got to make a craft or ornament while their parents shopped. And we also provided free gift wrapping supplies for the parents, so they could immediately wrap their gifts at the Christmas store so the kids didn’t see what they got.

  3. Daisy @ Everything Finance

    I like the idea of not embarrassing the receivers of the charity. I’ve never been involved in the “adopt a family” program where we actually met the family. Usually the kids don’t even know their families are part of the program, and they think that the parents, or “santa” give them the gifts. It’s a much better way to do it.

  4. Brenda Bond

    Thank you so much Bob for this one!! As Worship Director at my church I cannot wait to present this to the County Association next year. Every year they have a list of families to be adopted and this year a few didn’t even get picked up by anyone so the Association paid for it out of their pocket.
    I had a thought that not only can you offer the store but you can take up donations of cash and then issue the families something like a store credit when you invite them to come shop. Even if it isn’t but $20 per family, it goes back to the angle of having dignity in providing for their family.
    I am so excited about this, thank you again.