By Colin Foster
TROY — The First Lutheran Church has been like Santa’s workshop the last few days.
But it wasn’t elves working inside — it was volunteers from the area and people who signed up for the Partners in Hope Christmas Shop, doing their best to make the holiday season a little brighter for the children involved.
With the help of 25 local businesses, 17 partnering churches and assistance from many volunteers, the shop went on for the sixth consecutive year. This year, the shop assisted 103 area families and 209 children, allowing them to shop for gifts, along with providing them with books, gift cards and food for Christmas.
“I think the fact that we have the community so involved (is the reason this has been so successful),” said Bethany Brubaker, who runs the show for Partners in Hope. “I mean, we couldn’t do this ourselves. We have churches that collect toys, we have local businesses that collect toys, we have lots of people that want to volunteer.”
The program is unique in the sense that it’s not about giving handouts. Yes, in essence, it is about giving back to people during the holiday season — but they literally make people work for everything they get. People who sign up for the program must volunteer two hours of service per child or donate $10 per child to get everything that is included.
“You get to meet new people, everybody’s in such high spirits, said Shawnna Block, a Troy resident who gets to experience the best of both worlds, volunteering and being able to provide her three children with Christmas gifts. “Just to know that your helping and giving back — it makes it all worth while. They make you feel good about it, they make you want to come back and sign up … that’s why I come back.”
“I just think the integrity of this program, how you get to shop instead of just putting your name out saying ‘I have three kids and these are their sizes’ … I mean, that’s good too, but they actually get to pick out what they want for their kids — and I love that,” said Linda Arbogast, a volunteer. “And they have to earn it. They either volunteer or they pay a little bit.”
The families who sign up get three gifts for each child, divided up into price groups and age-appropriate choices. The gifts are placed at three different tables, representing the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh that were given to baby Jesus. Teenagers receive gift cards.
Aside from the presents, families are given two dozen cookies — which are provided by the partnering churches —books for each child, a ham and a $25 gift card from Kroger.
“They have a chance to get a nice dinner or maybe just supplement for the holidays,” said Jessica Echols, executive director of Partners in Hope. “A lot of times people get hired on for extra jobs during the holidays, but some people who work in local factories get shutdown for the holidays, so it kind of helps make up for a nice dinner that they may not be able to get.”
There are many different stations volunteers work at, including a shipping department and wrapping station, as well as local entertainment that comes out each night. Families have an opportunity to put their names in a raffle for certain presents they wish to bid on. The shoppe opened up Tuesday and concluded Thursday evening, running around two hours each session.
Families have the option of giving a monetary donation instead of volunteering. This monetary contribution goes to the Van Cleve Scholarship Fund for the sixth-grade trip. Gifts and donations are also accepted from the community.
“(The money) funnels back into the community, and some of these families are then able to access a scholarship that they’ve also helped contributed to as well as contributing to the shop,” Echols said.
This is a project by the community and for the community. Though it takes a lot of hands on deck to get the shoppe up-and-running, it appears to be worth while for all involved — and that’s the reason why volunteers, churches and businesses continue to be apart of this project year after year.
“Many generous hands and thoughtful hearts have made this a success,” Echols said. “We are blessed to have the opportunity to give back, just as so many of the families who come to the Christmas Shop express how grateful they are not only for the opportunity to shop, but also for the opportunity to volunteer their time and give back to the community.”
For additional information on this program, contact Partners in Hope at (937) 335-0448.