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Christmas shopping at church

ABILENE, Texas — The Christmas Store is a unique shopping experience for the Abilene inner city families provided by Highland Church of Christ. The families who participate in the program earn the privilege to shop by taking personal responsibility to improve their lives. Becky and Joe Almanza started the ministry three years ago and are excited about how it has grown from 50 participants the first year to 150 participants this year. Becky said they took the idea from Central Dallas Ministries.
“We got the ministry leaders together and traveled to Dallas to learn how to run the program. It has grown year after year.”
The participants earn points by participating in community service andempowerment programs. These points will later be turned into dollarsand families will be able to shop at the Christmas Store using theircredit.
Joe is the community minister at Highland Church of Christ. They havebeen in ministry together for 25 years, and the Christmas Store is justone of 15 ministries he oversees.”We desire to expand their vision beyond welfare,” he said “Instead of handing them a toy, we give them their dignity and allow them to work for it.”
This ministry is not open to the general public. Instead, there are organizations and ministries that partner with the Christmas Store, and the people within the organizations are allowed to participate if they choose. The organizations that are participating in the program this year are Freedom Fellowship, FaithWorks of Abilene, Highland Boys and Girls club, FROGS and refugee families.
Becky points out that there are many ways for a person to earn points.
“They can help with an event or service project at Highland, or they can help serve dinner on Wednesday evenings at Freedom Fellowship Church. They will receive points for enrolling in college courses, attending church or any other act of community service.”
Even children can earn points if they want to buy a sibling or a parent a Christmas gift. They earn points by getting good grades and for attending school. The average child will earn between 30-60 points, and the average adult will earn between 100-150 points.
“Last year, each point was worth one dollar. This year each point will most likely be worth fifty cents,” Becky said.
One of the benefits of the store is that it allows parents to experience the joy of giving to their children without having to receive a handout. The prices of the items are generally the same price as the price at a store like Wal-Mart.
Becky said, “The favorite item to shop for is a bike.” She begins shopping in September for the Christmas Store. She usually does her shopping at Target and Wal-Mart.
“My job is to start collecting gifts,” she said. “We have a donation toy drive at Highland, and organizations from ACU have donated toys as well.” The store is open by Dec. 1, and each participant is given a gift certificate equal to the number of points earned. There is a free gift wrapping service provided by volunteers.
Marla Purlee has participated in the Christmas Store all three years and said she has been greatly blessed by the ministry.
“To me, it’s not a handout, it’s a hand up,” she said. “I am not asking for a gift; I am earning it.”
Purlee has heart disease and is unable to work. She is not yet receiving disability, so she does not currently have any income coming in.
“If it wasn’t for the Christmas store, my grandchildren wouldn’t have any presents under the tree from Grandma,” she said.
Purlee receives points by helping serve the Wednesday night meal at Freedom Fellowship, serves at the monthly Saturday night service and attends Bible study on Wednesdays.
“I am a Christian, so I enjoy going to the Bible study and helping out with the services,” she said.
Purlee expresses gratitude for the job Becky and Joe are doing with the ministry and is also thankful she does not have to fight the holiday crowds.
“They have very nice gifts, and I don’t feel like I’m begging for gifts for my grandchildren because I am earning them.”
Every year, the community is given the opportunity to contribute to the Christmas Store. In October, families can donate new toys, clothes, cash donations, gift certificates, gift wrapping supplies and adult gifts.

(Story used with the author’s permission)

Filed under: Staff Reports Top Stories

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