Welcome to my blog...

Green trees, cool water, a gentle breeze...the perfect place to sit at the feet of the Master and learn. Jesus taught so often on the shoreline, and He's still speaking today.

This is where I share the lessons He teaches me, often during the time I spend on the shores of a local lake. I don't have all the answers...and some days I don't have any. But I go here when I need to draw near to Him in a tangible way. Come with me...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Adventures In Community Outreach - Christmas Edition

It's January, but I can still picture my church all set up for Christmas.  I can hear them too...the excited voices of families entering the Fellowship Mall, eyes wide, taking in their surroundings and anxiously awaiting the opening of our Christmas Store.

This was our "Second Annual Christmas Store", where financially challenged families could purchase new gifts for their children at 90% off.  Months of planning, weeks of shopping, and an entire day of set up was required for this four hour event!

We started with a "tag tree".  Each tag - numbered from 1 to 200 - indicated an age group from PreSchool to 18, a gender, and a price range of $10, $20 or $30.  Congregants signed out a tag, bought an appropriate gift, and returned it to the church with the tag attached to help us keep track.  Many bought extra gifts too.

We also had cash donations which a "buying team" used to purchase items in multiples, filling in the gaps the tags didn't cover.  When all was said and done there were between 800 - 1,000 gifts purchased for the main store where the parents shopped for their children and the Santa's workshop where kids shopped for parents and siblings.

While parents paid roughly 10 cents on the dollar - items like footballs and Barbies cost $1 while bicycles and mp3 players ran them $4 -  children ages 5 and up shopped in the Santa's Workshop with specially made "Christmas Dollars".  All items in both stores were gift wrapped free of charge, and the littlest family members were supervised in the nursery.

When the parents finished their shopping, they came back down to Fellowship Mall for breakfast, or lunch, or just a cup of coffee while they waited for their gifts to be wrapped and brought to the holding area.  It was a nice time to sit and chat with others, fill out a card for a soldier overseas, or wait their turn to have a family portrait taken.  We were blessed to have a professional photographer set up in one of the classrooms, taking 5x7 pictures which were printed out and framed on the spot and given as a free gift to our guests.  Several said it was the only family picture they had.

The two most important rooms we had were our prayer rooms.  In one room, there were about a dozen prayer warriors who prayed for our guests as well as for the staff of volunteers during the entire event.

In a second room, a husband and wife team made themselves available to any guest who desired prayer.  A number of people took advantage of the prayer room where it was said the spirit of the Lord was evident as requests were shared and tears were shed.

When all was said and done, we had 167 volunteers serve 90 families.  More than 50 cards were filled out and mailed overseas to our troops.  Over 40 family portraits were taken.  Dozens of Bibles were given out.  9 people received individual prayer.  Store sales totaled approximately $1,100.  We donated the funds to our local Salvation Army Drop In Center which serves the homeless population in Trenton, NJ.  Unsold toys were donated to a local organization that works with foster and adoptive families.

So many of the families served expressed their gratitude with hugs, tears, and kind words.  In fact, the director of one sending agency wrote to say that in 22 years she had never heard such wonderful feedback from clients or heard such words of gratitude.  The ripple effects go on and on.

The following weekend, we presented "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" and many of the families we served at the store returned to enjoy the show...then returned again to attend Christmas Eve services. 

We never know what our deeds will accomplish.  We pray for guidance in our approach and planning.  We pray that God would be glorified and that lives would be impacted with the love of Christ.  But beyond that, all we can do is plant the seeds.  Sometimes we are blessed to witness the harvest, and sometimes we toil trusting that God takes our sacrifice of time and talent and treasure and uses it to further His kingdom. 

If you would like more information on outreach ideas to impact YOUR community, just ask in the comments below and I'll be happy to contact you.


  1. As you know I am trying to make this happen in our area this year. Would you all have a video or dvd that maybe someone took that I could share with our church to "catch the vision". I will be in contact with you hopefully this week.

    Diana DiPrimo

  2. Hi Diana- I owe you an email, I'm sorry. I liked your take on our idea. We put together a video of pictures and I'll send you the link. Thanks for checking out the post! Toni