Imagine a scenario that is all too common. Good intended people show up on city blocks to hand out Christmas gifts without a local relationship among neighbors. Mom fakes a smile as her children are receiving gifts from strangers at the door. The kids are excited because they have new gifts. And Dad…? Dad is somewhere else or perhaps in the background feeling impotent. He wants to provide for his children, and those at the door are unintentionally disempowering his desire to provide. Now imagine a neighborhood-based store inside a community-focused church where moms, dads, grandparents, students, and loved ones can experience joy and dignity. Imagine “Christmas on the Block.”
The Christmas on the Block Family Store exists to provide a dignified and joy-filled shopping experience for neighborhood families in Chicago who desire a “hand up” at Christmastime.
Rather than giving a handout of toys to families, we believe families desire empowerment to purchase Christmas gifts for their own children. Even families with modest means can purchase new gifts for their families at Christmas on the Block.
It all starts when Chicago-area churches and businesses collect donations of new toys from their members and employees. The toys are then dropped off and received by leaders from Church on the Block who re-price the gifts by discounting their retail value to make the gifts affordable. Local residents of Austin then stock the store shelves with hundreds of great, new gifts for neighborhood families to purchase.
Local families shop and choose gifts with their own children in mind (the store will eventually be available to students who earn “shop bucks” throughout the year to purchase gifts for their loved ones). Neighbors are welcomed with open arms and hospitality. While people shop, Soul Café is also available for people to enjoy a cup of coffee and relax while Dean Turns (Worship DJ) rocks the tables with Christmas music.
Practically, the outcomes include the gift of dignity among parents and children, new friendships, a place where people can experience rest and joy, ongoing partnerships around Chicagoland, and the profits from the store are reinvested into the local community by sustaining the Christmas store annually with a dream of also re-investing into local elementary schools.
Ultimately, we trust that true dignity is found in our identity as God’s dearly beloved children. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ offers dignity and hope to all who freely say “yes,” embracing the call to return the gift of hope by pouring ourselves out on behalf of others. In this sense, the Christmas store mirrors the giving and receiving of life as a living Eucharist during Advent and Christmastide.