T
he West Chicago Christmas Store was launched in 2008 by Community Fellowship Church. In 2011 Puente del Pueblo became the community organization that partnered with the store to identify participants (shoppers). After a year or two, it made sense for Puente to take the lead as they were the third party organization that could call several churches in the community together around the common purpose of the store.

The Christmas Store is an opportunity for families to purchase new donated gifts at discounted prices so that they can share an affordable Christmas celebration with their children.

At the Christmas Store every family is given an appointment time, there is no waiting and long lines. And every family has a personal shopper assigned to them the day of the store. Gifts are available for purchase at 75% or more off the retail price, unwrapped. This gives mom and dad the dignity on Christmas morning of saying "I bought this gift for you and I know you will love it!" Gifts are wrapped after purchase by volunteers while shoppers enjoy Christmas songs and treats. The Christmas Store only receives and sells new, unopened items.

In 2015, 200 shoppers generated $3,800 dollars in Store profit. These funds are invested right back into the very same community. Historically they have underwritten an adult ESL tutoring program, but are also used to stabilize families' housing and utilities in times of crisis. Christmas Store leadership assesses each year the most strategically impactful way to utilize proceeds to benefit the community.

The Shoppers

While the planning and preparations continue nearly year-round, it is equally true that the impact of the store on the lives of West Chicago families extends far beyond the early December Saturday when the store is "open for business." The circumstances that bring parents to the store have been building for months, if not years. And the ways the lives of families in the community are touched by their experiences with the Christmas store continue to ripple through their lives long after their shopping day.

Shoppers Apointments

A few days before the store is open, the parents who have been invited call Puente's office to make a shopping appointment.

A predetermined number of appointments (about sixteen this past year) are made for each half hour, and gifts are planned, sorted and set out accordingly. In that way, an appropriate number of items, by age group, are available to be perused at 3:00 in the after-noon, just as at 9:00 in the morning.

On the day of the store, shoppers come at their appointed times and are paired with a helper. Then they have the opportunity to purchase a fixed number of gifts for each child they registered. This is generally a great experience for both shopper and volunteer because so much friendly interaction happens between the two. And sometimes, it can feel like a miracle!

The Hospitality Room

After paying for their selections, clients move on to one of the most important parts of the day. While volunteers wrap the gifts that have been selected, the shoppers enjoy refreshments in the hospitality room.

Our volunteers, including Bill and Blanca, spend their day in the hospitality room. They see their role as one of the main treasures to the store because they interact with nearly everone as the hours go by. These volunteers are on the lookout for opportunities to serve the shoppers―men and women who themselves are so often serving and so rarely served.

As Blanca offers coffee and cookies, she talks with the shoppers, hears their stories, and answers their questions. She and Bill ask them about their hopes for the future or about their personal concerns. As they listen, they offer to pray with the shoppers, and many accept those offers. They also invite them to attend church services over the holidays.

As the hospitality volunteers help the shoppers process their experience and share about themselves, they find the shoppers grateful, overwhelmed by the eagerness and love they see in those who helped them through the day. They experience the truth that the Christian call is one to love and serve.

A Lasting Impact

Several weeks later, when gifts purchased at the Puente store are pulled out of hiding and placed under the tree, parents and grandparents remember where those gifts came from. And months later, when a family decides to visit the church, that decision may be the result of a seed that was planted during their visit to the store. When a crisis arises and they remember the people they met at Christmastime, they often turn to Puente del Pueblo for help and support.