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!