By Stephanie Dolan
For many of us, Christmastime is all about magic. That magic has a lot to do with giving – giving to friends, giving to family and also giving to strangers. It’s the season of giving, and at no other time of the year is it more common to want to give to others than at Christmas.
Yet, there are some who don’t have the means to do much giving. That’s an especially difficult issue for those with children.
One answer to that problem for many families is The Christmas Store, which welcomes 850 families to “shop” their holiday inventory. The Christmas Store is operated by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and directed by Stephanie Davis.
“It takes about 200 volunteers to run this program,” Davis said. “They come from all over. They sign up online or receive information from our appeal letter we send out. And others have just heard about us and want to do something to help out. But our core volunteers, if we didn’t have them this program wouldn’t exist. They organize the drives and do the inventory. They let us know what we need.”
Davis said she starts looking for families each October, and that the schedule fills up quickly. That schedule closes just before Thanksgiving. The store is open Tuesday and Wednesday evening and every weekend during the shopping season.
How it works
“Everyone who comes through gets a personal shopper,” she said. “We give two toys per child along with two outfits, socks and underwear. We try to make sure the clothing is somewhat trendy and appropriate. You know, with all the bullying there is in schools, the last thing we want is to send some child out to get bullied. A lot of good donors come through. We have a relationship with Jockey, who provides all the underwear and socks that we have. A lot of businesses donate to us, and we receive donations within Catholic Charities. We also have an endowment with Lilly, so there’s some grants there as well.”
Davis said that the program is blessed with many donors each year.
“We have a lot of our donors who come through – a lot of schools and businesses host toy drives and clothing drives,” she said. “This is a constant collection throughout the year. We’ll serve about 4,000 people, which is about 850 families with this program. These are all brand-new items. A lot of programs get the gently used items, and it’s nice to have the option for new items.”
Those new items include approximately 10,000 toys.
“The biggest issue is storage,” Davis said. “As we’re going on we have different agencies delivering items to us because we don’t have room for it all at once. Plus, the spirit of giving doesn’t really start until after Thanksgiving.”
Davis also said that any leftover merchandise is saved for the next year.
“As our money and grants come through, we make purchases the day after Christmas,” she said. “We have a core group of about 20 people throughout the year who go out and find these great sales. You know, the day after Christmas is when all the good buys are. So we know how much it costs to run the program, but we can increase inventory by purchasing during sale times. My thought is I’d love to have these ladies do my own personal shopping for me. They would save me some bucks!”
Toys are divided up by age group as well as gender, and parents come through and choose items for their family.
How it feels
“Families get a sense of pride by choosing the items themselves,” Davis said. “It gives them a chance to take part in Christmas selection for their family. Then, once they’ve chosen gifts for their family, they get to choose a gift for their household. Anything from a toaster oven to… well, we just gave away a Weber grill this morning with a bag of charcoal to a single dad. He said, ‘Are you kidding me?! I love to grill out! This is great!’”
The Christmas Store works with 86 agencies throughout the area.
“They’re given a packet with appointment dates and times,” Davis said. “They choose their clients or patients and refer them to the store. They have that relationship with those people already. We occasionally have people calling looking for help, but mainly it’s the agencies that are helping us identify those in need. Anything from a health center to schools to adult and child counseling. Churches donate as well as refer people. They’re not all Catholic. We only serve about 16 percent Catholic. That’s not mandatory.”
Davis, also the head of the Archdiocese Crisis Resource Center, has been in charge of the Christmas Store since 2009.
How they help
“I’ve been with the Archdiocese since 2006,” she said. “It was part of the program I was taking over with the crisis office. That office helps with basic needs – food, clothing, transportation, birth certificates, etc. We’ve got all kinds of people who come through – homeless people or people struggling due to a broken-down car or medical bills. Most come through for food. We just implemented something last Monday. People used to be able to come every 15 days, and now they can come once a week to our food pantry, which is open Monday through Thursday. Anyone can walk in and be served.”
Davis said that hers is one of the few food pantries open in the evening.
“We did a study about two years ago,” she said. “I was watching people come through the door and trying to fit in getting food on their lunch hour. We just weren’t accessible enough. Now we’re open Monday evenings.”
Davis said that her volunteers’ passion really keeps her driven.
“You want to make a difference and see things get better, but sometimes you’re the only hope for some families,” she said. “You see that one individual who comes in for something one time, and that’s the only time you ever see them. But then there are families who become a part of your own because they return all the time. In the crisis office, we have 40 dedicated volunteers who come in every Thursday.”
While Davis will continue running the Crisis Center through the season, much of her focus will go to the Christmas Store until the season has ended.
“The best thing is watching some of the families who struggle day to day and know that they can have some items for their family and have it be special for that one day,” she said. “We also have a booklet that outlines different activities and fun things to do with your kids that don’t cost a lot of money.”
Davis said that, when she was a kid, she’d put on her pajamas and get into the car with her parents to go look at Christmas lights, listen to Christmas music and drink cocoa.
“There are inexpensive things you can do that can still build memories,” she said. “Even though these people are struggling day to day, at least Christmas can be special.”
Davis said the best part of running the Christmas store is watching the change in people from when they come in to when they walk out.
“People coming through the front door can be a little timid,” she said. “And then you see them come back downstairs and get the stocking stuffers and they tear up. It’s a great feeling. You get to play Santa for the whole month of December.”
Anyone interested in donating or volunteering can contact Davis at email@example.com or (317) 236-1556.
5 Questions with Stephanie Davis
- What is your favorite Christmas tradition?
Making cookies. I’ve got recipes through my grandmother and my mother. Sugar cookies are probably my favorite. The recipe is probably over 50 years old.
- What are some things that get you into the spirit at Christmas time?
Wrapping presents. I love to wrap. I used to think that the ladies at L.S. Ayres had the best jobs in the world because they got paid to wrap presents. Now, my daughter works at Von Maur and I go up there and watch them wrap presents. At 7 years old, that was my dream job.
- What is your favorite Christmas carol?
“O Holy Night”
- What has been your most memorable Christmas gift?
My stepfather, when he joined our family, made me a doll cradle. I’m not talking a little plastic cradle. He was an industrial arts teacher, and he made it out of real wood. A real baby could have got into it. My youngest daughter still has it to this day. To join the family and come in and make something that special left a big impression.
- Which is better, giving or getting?