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The Christmas Store: Helping Make Christmas Happen for Children in Need

The Christmas Store is looking forward to another successful year in providing books and toys for parents to give to children in Oxford and Lafayette County who would not have Christmas otherwise. All of this is made possible through the generosity of fellow Oxonians.

This year marks the Christmas Store’s 38th year in making Christmas happen for children in the community and the 7th year that the Rotary Club of Oxford-Ole Miss and Interfaith Compassion Ministry have teamed up as co-sponsors.

“Ann O’Dell and Rosie Cooper of First Presbyterian Church envisioned a means by which children in our community, who might not otherwise experience the excitement of unwrapping a gifts during Christmas, would receive a toy courtesy of community donations,” Larry Brookhart, former president and founding member of the Rotary Club of Oxford- Ole Miss, said.

Once the vision was clear the real work began. Brookhart said the Christmas Store Committee was formed to provide structure for fundraising, purchasing toys, publicity, and inviting eligible families to select toys for their children.

The purpose of The Christmas Store has always been to help parents or guardians select gifts for their children to open on Christmas morning. Eligible parents or guardians of children ages 1 to 14 are given appointed times for a community volunteer to show them a variety of toys in a retail store-type venue to select one major- and one minor-valued gift for each child.

Over the years, The Christmas Store has improved its processes to make sure the children get exactly what want for Christmas.

“We have streamlined the process by providing a ‘wish list’ of toys as part of the application process,” Brookhart said. “We have computerized the database to enable efficient generation of invitation letters and shopping labels containing first name, age, gender, the applicant’s selection of two toys, and a family number to facilitate sorting toy purchases for families on distribution day.”

Brookhart adds to the Christmas spirit by taking on the role of Santa each year.

“I can envision all the kids with bright eyes and broad smiles when they know something special is waiting for them on Christmas morning. Multiply this times more than 800 children and you get the picture,” Brookhart said.

Another plus for Brookhart is meeting generous Oxonians, local business owners, and university students who make this event possible through donations and volunteer hours.

Brookhart says he is a firm believer that you get what you give. By giving the parents gifts, he gets an even better feeling by simply being a part of The Christmas Store.

After working with this event for several years, Brookhart learned quickly why Santa has so many elves helping him. He found that the key is to keep calm and carry on. Shopping for and sorting about 1,600 toys is no small task, he said. Brookhart, in a way, has elves throughout the community that help The Christmas Store to be successful and he gives them full credit.

“It’s really our individual Rotarians and community-wide volunteers, including Volunteer Oxford and RSVP; the wonderful support of Interfaith Compassion Ministry and school guidance counselors; and the financial support of Rotary International, local businesses/churches, and individual donors that collectively make The Christmas Store happen. Wouldn’t happen without everyone involved,” said Brookhart.

He also credits Oxford’s generosity as the gift that keeps on giving. He identifies Oxford as a service-oriented community. According to Brookhart, there has never been a shortage of volunteers or financial support.

The community can help again this year by volunteering and donating in a variety of ways. To volunteer for shopping, sorting, bagging toys, wrapping gifts and on distribution day, contact oxfordchristmasstore@gmail.com or call 662-259-7150.

Volunteers are needed to help sort and bag toys on Saturday, December 7 and on Distribution Day on Saturday, December 14, both at The Stone Center located at 423 Washington Avenue, across from the City Pool.

A gift card (Walgreens or Wal-Mart), a new, unwrapped toy or book, or a donation of $30 will provide books and toys for eligible children in the community. Toys may be dropped at Interfaith Compassion Ministries office at 904 N. Lamar Blvd. or a Rotarian will pick up toy donations by contacting The Christmas Store.

Monetary donations may be sent to: The Christmas Store, P.O. Box 1686, Oxford, MS or online at www.oxford-olemissrotary.com (click on “service projects”).

– Maggie Durinen is a student in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media

Last year, HottyToddy.com produced a short video describing The Christmas Store.


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