Choosing Toys is Gift for Parents
By Steve Smith
During this upcoming Christmas season, needy people walking through the doors of the Cross-lines Cooperative Council in Kansas City, Kan., and 61st Avenue United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn., won't get handed grocery sacks, boxes or even stockings stuffed with toys, canned goods and other supplies.
If they do, the containers will contain items they picked themselves to present to their children at Christmas time -- and their dignity will remain intact.
Lou Rose, the faith-based council's executive director, said, "For 40 years, families have been able to actually come in to shop -- really shop -- for the kids, and people come in to shop for other people, so that $5 they pay at the beginning is multiplied 20 times over, depending on how many members in their families.
"If I'm a mother or father who comes in here to shop, when that gift is opened on Christmas day, that person knows it comes from me."
Such gift shops are an ideal way for churches to help people affected by Katrina and Rita during the upcoming holidays that most assuredly will become the toughest they've ever faced, experts say.
Rose and development director Theresa Swartwood said their ministry serves more than 2,500 people during a typical holiday season, representing nearly 65 families. Family members first register with the organization a few weeks before, pay $5, and receive times and days to show up to browse through Cross-lines' Christmas shop filled with free clothing, household items, toys and food.
Swartwood said, "As a parent, this is your way of being fulfilled and actually make decisions on providing Christmas for your own family."
Since being formed by area church leaders 40 years ago, the Cross-lines Cooperative Council has enjoyed support by churches, individuals and businesses. Program leaders include members of area United Methodist churches and other faith-based organizations.
Throughout the year, Cross-lines, whose mission statement is "Alleviate the suffering of people in poverty and teach others how they should help the poor," provides emergency assistance, crisis intervention, rent and utility assistance, school supplies and uniforms, health fairs, food, minor home repairs, volunteer work groups and community-service projects for adults and youths.
At 61st Avenue Church, low-income parents will pick out toys Dec. 18-21 for their children as personal stamps on the presents. Last year, volunteers gave away 14,000 toys to 3,000 children, said the Rev. Paul Slentz, the church's pastor.
The toys, donated from campaign drives and individual donations, come unwrapped so that parents can wrap them in paper of their own choosing, he said.
"Naturally, parents want to do for themselves if at all possible in a situation like Katrina and Rita," Slentz said. "It is part of the joy of Christmas to provide toys for their children, and many parents don't know until the last minute that they're in a position where they’re not able to do this.
"Therefore, we provide them with the toys, and the toys are from them when they present them to their children, not from an agency or a church."
Volunteers guide parents through the aisles of toys in the fellowship hall. Church leaders work with agencies in the Nashville area to set up the three-gift-per child "Last Minute Toy Store."
"Any church can use this model that emphasizes parents as much as possible rather than parents being totally reliant upon the goodness of churches," Slentz said. "Parents may not be in a position to provide for their children, but they can still think about what their children want and need, and truly get to shop for them, wrap the presents and say, 'Here, Merry Christmas.' They're not passive recipients.
"It's important for people, like the Katrina and Rita survivors whose lives are out of control, to find some effort to be in control."
--Steve Smith, freelance writer, Dallas