EUREKA – Toyland, good little girl and boyland, is a real place, at least one weekend each year.
Genesis Church in Eureka turns Blevins Elementary into a shopping mall for families who are struggling or hurting. This mall has one store, The Gift of Love Christmas Store.
“We’ve had this store for four years because we have a mandate to care for the poor,” Mike Hubbard, pastor, said. “Many in this area are struggling. Dad lost a job or they are dealing with illness.We are called to serve our community.”
Genesis Church caught the idea when Melody Buehrle, store organizer, attended a missions conference.
“I heard a man talking about an affordable store,” she said. “God immediately laid it heavy on my heart. I pray for our Christmas store every day.”
Hubbard and church members laid the groundwork for using the elementary school by building a strong relationship with the school.
“We’ve forged a tight relationship with the elementary school because three ladies in our church, including my wife, teach at the school,” he said. “We also offer a tutoring program at the school for students needing the extra help.”
Sharon Jackson, Blevins principal, agreed that the church and the school have a solid relationship.
“We have a connection because we know and trust Mike’s wife as a teacher,” she said. “After volunteering to tutor ONLY the curriculum, I knew they wanted to give of themselves.”
Jackson is also a major component in the invitations.
“I send out letters to families on the free and reduced lunch program,” she said. “I also know of families who are needy and I let them know that I am the only person who knows of the invitation. I include a letter from Mike Hubbard outlining the generous offer.”
The store is a year-round project and an important ministry in the area because of the closing of the Chrysler plant a few miles up the highway. The church gathers donated gifts and toys throughout the year from church members, community members and merchants. The store then sells the toys for 10 per cent of the value. Each customer spends $6 per child for gifts worth about $60 or more retail. They can choose three gifts: one in each price range of $10, $20 or $30.
Many of the gifts in the ranges are actually higher. “People are so generous,” Buehrle said. “They hear what we are doing and give bikes and many really nice gifts.”
Jackson said the gift purchase is an important aspect of the store. “Everyone wants to be able to support their family and to provide a Christmas for their children. This store gives these struggling families an opportunity to do that.”
Twenty families take advantage of the shopping day with 12 more families shopping on a later day. The 32 families represent a total of 100 children served.
“When the families arrive, they are assigned a personal shopper,” Buehrle said. “The shopper talks to them to find out what each child likes and then leads them to appropriate gifts. The shopper helps them get their gifts wrapped and taken to the car.”
The shopping day is truly a family day. While the parents are shopping, the children are invited to participate in a crafts area and use their talents to make gifts for their parents. A continental breakfast is provided to make the shopping a relaxing event. In addition to the gifts, each family leaves with a laundry basket stocked with household items not covered by food stamps and a goody bag filled with stocking stuffers.
“We just want to provide a day of support,” Buehrle said. “We want to get to know them and to love on them.”
Buehrle is willing to share information about the Gift of Love Christmas Store. Her phone number is 636-346-17982. Genesis church meets in Eureka High School.
VICKI STAMPS/contributing writer