Making the Holidays Brighter for Low-Income Families
Thanks to the Christmas Store of Cleveland County, countless area low-income families enjoy a more joyous holiday season. The store is a community project involving hundreds of people who donate their energies and resources in return for the opportunity to shop for gifts.The program, nearing five decades of existence, has become an example for similar programs across the country.
“What’s important in life, and the things that will be remembered, is not what you gather through your life but what you scatter,” said Charles Hollingsworth, chair of the Christmas Store, paraphrasing a supporter. “Much of our faith in our fundraising efforts is based on a similar premise,” he added.
Recently I interviewed Hollingsworth about the Christmas Store; below are his responses.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY BEHIND THE STORE?
The Christmas Store of Cleveland County was the dream of Gene Waller, executive director of Cleveland County Action. It came from the hearts and minds of people who saw the shortcomings in many of the traditional methods of Christmas giving and decided to do something about it. As the story is told, he saw an old sign in a gutter of a Cleveland County country road, planting the seed for the naming of the store.
WHAT MAKES THE STORE UNIQUE?
The store has never been a hand-out opportunity, but rather a program that requests its recipient’s participation in preparing the site for their shopping days in December.
We are proud that our entire operation is accomplished by volunteers, with no administrative salaries required.
For several years, our membership board has worked hard to “raise the bar” of store operations. One example was the enhancement of the store lobby. Even though we know we can’t mirror a department store’s Christmas seasonal environment, we push each season to assure first impressions are filled with yuletide cheer. Years ago, a donation of shopping carts added to the atmosphere of a mall experience. Included in this adjustment was a move from donations of used items to only new ones.
HOW DO PEOPLE ENROLL?
All shoppers go through a private interview to determine his or her total income to ensure they meet the qualifications. Currently. guidelines mirror those set by the State of Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services for low-income families.
During the eligibility process, information is obtained to identify the family’s needs, such as number of children and their ages. Thus, on shopping days, clients can be accurately routed to the right room. They choose what their family wants and needs, not what someone else thinks they should have.
HOW DOES THE STORE WORK?
Once approved, a client is required to work a total of two hours to be eligible to return and shop in early December.
Approved clients may be assigned different work roles, such as sorting groceries, toys and household items to general maintenance of the building.
Tasks are also provided for clients not physically able to lift or stand. These clients may be assigned to work in a room with sewing machines to prepare gift items for the armed services. Finished goods are delivered to an Oklahoma City agency, which ships the items to active-duty forces.
WHAT KIND OF DONATIONS DO YOU ACCEPT?
Donations arrive in many forms. The store does one major fundraising effort, to which the community responds generously.
Once the store is open, we welcome gift donations, including toys for toddlers through young teens, and other gifts of clothes, gadgets and other gift items suitable for senior citizens, older teens, household items, as well as non-perishable grocery items.
The store also accepts cash donations.
HOW DOES THE COMMUNITY COME TOGETHER TO MAKE THE STORE A SUCCESS?
Without the combined efforts of community members and local churches, this annual event would not be successful. Alliances with churches and businesses have been very beneficial.
Local fire and police also hold an annual chili supper, which provides cash funding and at the same time, adds a sense of community.