Yesterday our church hosted an event called Christmas in the City. It was one of the most unique expressions of God’s love I’ve ever witnessed.
We are an unashamedly urban ministry. Situated in City Heights, a diverse working poor community, we reach out to the neighborhood in ways that just wouldn’t work in the suburbs. This is a great example.
How it works
The organization that actually presents Christmas in the City [er, I forgot what it’s called!] encourages church, schools, and businesses to give toys in a way that is very similar to Toys for Tots or Operation Christmas Child. Additionally, previous year’s proceeds go to purchase more toys.
On the day of the event volunteers from all over come to to create a store, checkout areas, and wrapping stations for the presents. Additionally, our church set-up some play areas, snacks, live music and activities for shoppers and their kids to enjoy while parents shopped.
This is where the line comes in. Since they’ve done this event for a few years people in the city know and depend on the sale to buy gifts for their kids. So think of this line a lot like a Black Friday line. People literally showed up at 7:00 AM for this event… which started at 12:30 PM. Thankfully, this was more civilized than a typically line at Wal*Mart.
When the store opens, gifts are sold at 10-20% of retail prices. ($2, $5, or $10) The idea behind Christmas in the City is that they don’t just want to hand parents a random gift to give to their children for free. While that is nice and many organizations do that, this is different in that they allow parents to choose some gifts for each of their children and also give them the ability to buy presents for their kids. The hope is that by doing it this way they can help the working poor while helping the recipents maintain their pride and dignity. They chose the gift. They bought it with their own money.
How did it go?
I had read about this type of event in community development books. So I had some idea that there would be a big line, that there would be a lot of toys, that there would be a lot of smiles.
I guess I wasn’t prepared for the volume. On a typical Sunday our church has 150-200 attendees. (About half non-English speaking, the other half English speaking.) There were at least that many who were in line to come to the Christmas shop. Tons of different ethnic background, tons of different stories, tons of people helped.
Another thing I wasn’t prepared for was that we’d have to turn people away. I know the need is great out there… but I never presumed that we wouldn’t have enough gifts for those who would come. We could have easily sold twice as much stuff! Now that I know how it goes I think I’ll have to do a better job promoting how people can get involved.
I’m still getting the pictures and video together. I will share that when I have it all ready.