More than 30 volunteers organized by Kenilworth Union Church traveled to Chicago’s West Side Dec. 19, to support a program that gives low-income shoppers an affordable way to buy Christmas presents for their families.
The Bethel Christmas Store, sponsored by Bethel New Life, collects new, quality donated goods and makes them available for purchase as gifts at sharply discounted prices. About 700 qualifying families select their own gifts and pay as little as $1, $5 or $10, typically about 75 percent off retail.
Many families pay with “Bethel Bucks” earned by doing such things as getting good grades in school, taking a financial literacy class or volunteering. Christmas sale revenue helps fund college tours for high school students who have trouble paying travel expenses.
“KUC volunteers and friends helped wrap presents, served as shopping assistants and kept store displays well-stocked with inventory,” said Rev. Sarah Garcia, KUC associate minister. “We met many wonderful people, had a lot of fun and had an opportunity to see in action one of Chicago’s most successful community organizations.”
Bethel New Life was a leading recipient of money from KUC’s 2011 Christmas Fund. Several new youth bicycles were donated to the sale by an anonymous KUC member and other church members donated a scooter, a dollhouse and household goods. KUC was one of more than 25 church and business partners who donated gifts or sent volunteers.
"Kenilworth Union Church was in the house!” said Sara Spoonheim of Bethel New Life. “We are so grateful for how the church embraced this new approach to Christmas giving. Through the store, parents got the chance to choose gifts and contribute at a level they could afford. Shoppers were grateful to get help instead of a handout."
“One shopper had more gifts than she could buy, so she put back a box of dishes," Spoonheim said. "She was about to return a Lego set for her son when the shopper behind her offered to pay for it instead."
“We let our shoppers know that every dollar they spent will underwrite a college tour for West Side students this spring," Spoonheim said. "When we asked if they wanted to donate a dollar or two to the fund, more than half said yes. They had donated $455.80 by late Saturday morning."