|Youth Director Penny Hammonds, right, helps Miranda Hathaway and Dusty McDonald pick out gifts for their child in the Fletcher UMC Christmas Store.
By Penny Hammonds
The United Methodist Church in Fletcher applied for Project Noel at the end of November.
With the blessing of Pastor Lory Fahle, four of us had brainstormed and had ideas of opening a store where people who could not afford Christmas gifts could "shop" for free gift items for their children.
Not knowing what things would be received through Project Noel, we decided to go to the pick-up site in Oklahoma City on the first day it was open, Dec. 13.
That day, we made the decision we could open a store. We were able to get many books, hair supplies, shoes, body wash, scrapbook supplies, and even gift items for parents.
We enlisted the help of our congregation and posted on Facebook that we needed donations of toys. One church member enlisted his co-workers at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations to help with toy donations, too.
A Project Noel thank you
Project Noel 2010 "went wonderfully," according to Amanda Lockwood, who chairs the Commission on the Rural/Small-Membership Church. About 100 churches participated in the statewide Christmas gift ministry.
In Oklahoma City, for example, Mayfair Heights UMC distributed gifts through partnerships with two hospitals, apartment complexes, Putnam City schools, and other organizations, according to the church newsletter.
Rev. Lockwood extended special thanks to the Fabriclean and Hobby Lobby companies for their support.
Within two days, we were able to open our store (on Dec. 15).
We live in a small town, population 1,200, so we quickly got names of those in need. We expected to be open three nights, and we called and scheduled appointments for parents to come shop. A few walk-ins patiently waited their turns.
We had a room where children could wrap gifts for their parents. Parents were given the option to wrap at the store or take unwrapped items
In the end, 114 children were served through our store. We were open seven nights, and even delivered gifts on Christmas Eve to a family unable to reach the store because their vehicle had broken down.
People told us their stories, though we didn’t ask. One family had been going to skip Christmas because they had no money for gifts and no tree. (We were able to get them a tree also). One man couldn’t afford gifts for his daughter because he had undergone an amputation procedure and was out of work.
A single mom earned minimum-wage and received no child support; a friend caring for a teen whose mom was hospitalized couldn’t afford gifts for the teen. Everyone was very grateful for what they received. Simple hair items brought one woman to tears; she had four daughters.
We knew a lot of the people, but we also got hugs and thanks from strangers. This experience has been so rewarding for all of us involved. We are making plans for our Project Noel Christmas Store 2011.