Christmas Store a gift to parents
December 20, 2018 | View PDF
For many, the Christmas season is full of joy and anticipation, but for low-income families it can be a time of overwhelming stress. Last Saturday, the community of Shafter came together with over 100 volunteers to conduct the city's second annual Shafter Christmas Store - an event that gives those families the opportunity to purchase Christmas gifts for their children at a fraction of normal prices.
"Many giving models place volunteers into the role of provider, but we don't want to see that happen," says Katie Wiebe, a member of the store's lead team. "We want parents to work hard and feel the joy of providing for their children, and we see this happening with the Shafter Christmas Store."
Volunteers came by the dozen to the Shafter Veterans Hall Saturday morning for training and preparation. The hall buzzed with excitement and friendly chatter as folks received their assignments for the day. The volunteer training focused on a well-known sentiment from Mister Rogers - how to be a good neighbor. Volunteers were reminded that the main goal of the Christmas Store is for community members to engage with their neighbors, encouraging each other in a dignified and empowering way.
"At other Christmas giving events, the differences and inequalities between the volunteers and the participants are like the elephant in the room," explains Brittney Neal-Sobernais, project manager for the City of Shafter and member of the store's lead team. "This event strengthens our community because everyone is bringing something to the table, making those commonalities much easier to find."
Volunteers served as cashiers, gift wrappers and greeters, and there was no shortage of helping hands. Some volunteers, such as Veronica Navarro, decided to make it a family event. "I thought this would be a good opportunity to show my daughter how important it is to give back to the community," said Navarro, who brought Julianna to volunteer with her. "We love to help others, and we hope that today we can reduce stress for some less fortunate families so they can enjoy the holiday."
The Christmas Store is not like a regular toy giveaway. Though the prices are low, parents are still using their own hard-earned money to provide for their families, The store's lead team works closely with Shafter Healthy Start to identify families in the community who would most benefit from the event. Margaret Ramirez, a family advocate at Healthy Start, said, "I am volunteering today because I know these families. I've worked at Healthy Start for twenty years, and this is a great event for lo- income parents who wouldn't otherwise be able to provide Christmas presents for their kids."
Families came from many different circumstances to shop. Adrianna and Miguel Espinoza have four children under the age of 11, and Miguel has been unable to work. "We have been going through a tough time financially because of my husband's injury, but thanks to this event we have been able to buy gifts for our kids," said Adrianna. "We hope to give back by donating or volunteering at this event in the future so that we can help others in need."
Though this was only the second annual Shafter Christmas Store, the event has grown significantly. Last year, 32 families with 103 children were invited to shop, and this year the event supported 55 families with 157 children.
"My hope for the future of the Christmas Store is that we stay true to the vision of this project," said Katie Wiebe. "I hope we remain committed to empowering families to provide for their children, and that we can continue to celebrate the many families in our community who work hard every day to love and support their children."