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Christmas: Expectations vs. Reality

When you start planning your holiday celebrations, what are some of your traditions? Maybe it's going to a Christmas tree farm to pick out the perfect pine to house your family's presents under. Maybe it's wearing matching Christmas pajamas with your family while watching The Christmas Story. However, while it may be a joyful time for others, it is also a time of great financial challenge and worry for the families we serve at the Wellston Center. To alleviate some of that anxiety, we offer our clients a safe Christmas shopping program experience as well as holiday food boxes to make sure that they get to experience the season of giving.

A client of the Center with volunteer and board member Maryann Schwartz shopping from donated Christmas gifts.

We all have a shared experience of wanting to focus on our families during the Christmas season. Determined to not let COVID-19 impact the celebration of Christmas, the Wellston Center helped 211 families, totaling to 589 individuals, through our annual Christmas Club program this year.

Unlike "adopt-a-family" programs, our clients are able to shop from donated Christmas gifts to be able to choose what they want to make their holiday season magical. The clients who shop our Christmas Club all come from low-income families. With the poverty rate in Wellston being almost 47% of the population, the need for us to help is only increasing. Most of the clients we serve are elderly and disabled with traditional government assistance programs barely covering their daily needs.

A client and her son shopping our Christmas Club.

To qualify to shop in our Christmas Club, clients must have visited our food pantry at least three times within that year. Trying to help those who need it most with quality services, we limit our clients to the residents of 63112, 63133, and 63121. 73.70% of the population in these areas have an income under $50,000, with the average adjusted gross income being $23,790.

In early fall, our clients start signing up for a time to shop the Christmas Club. Depending on their family size, they are assigned an amount they are eligible to spend. While their money might not go very far at a traditional store, we price our donated items at 10% of their value to ensure our clients get the most out of their savings. For example, a blender might sell for $59.99 at your local store, but we sell it for $5.00 to give our clients realistic access to needed items.

A volunteer pricing Christmas gifts.

Donors, which include parishes, individuals and companies, are provided a list of highly requested items. For the population we serve, linens, kitchen appliances, and clothes are often a luxury that is otherwise impossible to obtain. As these donations arrive at the Center, volunteers spend the days leading up the Christmas shopping event setting up, decorating, and pricing items to emulate a department store shopping experience.

"Volunteers are like angels from heaven. God sent his angels to help his people here on Earth." - Anonymous Client Note

This year, the shopping days for clients were December 11, 12, and 13. Once the clients arrived during their assigned time, they shopped with a volunteer personal shopper that guided them around the store ensuring that their shopping experience was as stress-free as possible. Clients wrapped up their shopping with gifts of wrapping paper, tape, and Christmas cards.

A Christmas food box prepped for distribution.

After the Christmas Club shopping program concluded, volunteers started a new project - the Christmas holiday meal boxes. Over 350 boxes of Christmas-themed food is donated from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish every year that we distribute to clients the Tuesday after the Christmas shopping event. The boxes are filled with Christmas cookies, fresh fruit, nonperishable canned goods, and toiletry items that our clients often have to go without. We also included $20.00 gift cards to Save a Lot in each box, generously donated by the St. Augustine Church.

Our effort during the holiday is to show God's love and compassion to all His people, but particularly to His people in need. With all of the loss that the pandemic has caused, the Wellston Center wanted to remind people that we are here to help.

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