December 15, 2017

The joy of a simple gift: Christmas stores bring holiday hope, love to hundreds of families in need

As the head volunteer of the Christmas Store in Indianapolis, Nancy Hollinden leads a group of dedicated, year-round volunteers who offer families in need a place to shop for toys, clothing and household items for Christmas at the Catholic Charities Indianapolis venue. Here, the member of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis shares a light moment with David Bethuram, executive director of Catholic Charities for the archdiocese. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

As the head volunteer of the Christmas Store in Indianapolis, Nancy Hollinden leads a group of dedicated, year-round volunteers who offer families in need a place to shop for toys, clothing and household items for Christmas at the Catholic Charities Indianapolis venue. Here, the member of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis shares a light moment with David Bethuram, executive director of Catholic Charities for the archdiocese. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

The story is one of Nancy Hollinden’s favorites from the Christmas season.

Actually, this touching scene happened the day after a Christmas when Hollinden and her fellow year‑round volunteers helped to make the holiday special for 800 families in need—including providing clothes and two toys for every child in these families.

“I was shopping at Walmart on the day after Christmas—because that’s when you get the great bargains—and I had a huge shopping cart full of things for the Christmas Store,” recalls Hollinden, a member of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis. “The gentleman who was checking me out inquired about my large amount of stuff. I told him I was buying for a charity, and we give these gifts to children at Christmas.

“He said, ‘Oh, I was one of those kids. I want you to know that my whole life long, I never, ever got anything for Christmas except from someone like you. You are doing a wonderful thing.’ ”

The 75-year-old grandmother pauses before she adds, “I just had tears in my eyes.”

She had the same reaction when an elderly couple showed up one day at the Christmas Store in Indianapolis, one of the two Catholic Charities settings in the archdiocese—the other store is in Terre Haute—where people in need come to choose brand-new gifts for members of their family.

“They were grandparents living on Social Security, and they were in a situation that came out of the opioid crisis,” Hollinden says. “Two of their children were arrested for drug dealing, and they had to take custody of their 10 grandchildren.

“They told the kids they wouldn’t get anything for Christmas. Then they were referred to the Christmas Store. They got clothes and toys for all the kids. They were in tears, and we were in tears. Tears of joy. They said that when they were able, they would pass along that kindness to other people.”

‘The best Christmas ever’

Such are the moments that have kept Hollinden volunteering for the past 10 years at the Christmas Store in Indianapolis, including the past five years as the head volunteer.

“It’s so heartwarming. It’s such direct help to people who wouldn’t have Christmas otherwise,” she says. “Our purpose is to make sure as many children as possible are not forgotten at Christmas.”

That goal requires a year-round commitment from a group of volunteers who share a common passion.

“Of the 14 of us who do it year-round, most are in their 60s, two are in their 80s, and I’m 75,” she says. “Most of us have been in caring professions our whole lives—nurses, teachers, a school psychologist, a dental hygienist. Once you do this, you’re hooked.”

Five of them shop for deep discounts all year long, using the money that is donated to the effort. All of them combine their efforts to create a “store” for the shoppers.

“We call it a store because the parents come in and shop for their families,” Hollinden says. “They know the sizes for their children’s clothing, the colors they want, the toys they already have, and the toys they want. They get to choose what they want for their children.

“When it started 28 years ago, there were 30 families. This year, we have appointments scheduled for 800 families. We average between 2,500 and 3,000 children every year, and they each get two toys.”

A mother of three expressed her thanks to everyone at the Christmas Store in Indianapolis for “the best Christmas ever” that her family had last year.

“The whole experience was wonderful, and the gifts were wonderful,” the mother noted. “I wish all of you could have seen the smiles and giggles my children had opening the nice gifts.”

The joy of a simple gift

The Christmas Store in Terre Haute will also bring the joy of the season to more than 700 families this Christmas, according to Jennifer Buell, development director of Catholic Charities Terre Haute.

The stories from the Christmas Store in Terre Haute are also touching, including one about a man who arrived with a purpose beyond the clothes and toys that the store offers families. His focus was on the area of household items from which families also get to choose a gift.

“When his opportunity came to choose a household item, he quickly responded that he didn’t need to look around at what was available,” Buell says. “He said he had ‘been watching a box the whole time, hoping someone else didn’t take it.’

“Prodded for what it was and why it meant so much to him, he announced, ‘It’s this set of dishes. There are 10 people living in our house, and we can’t all eat together because we don’t have enough dishes.’ ”

Buell still thinks about the man and the reality of a family not having enough dishes to eat together—and how a simple gift like that meant so much to him.

‘That’s how important this is to people’

The emphasis of the Christmas Store in both Indianapolis and Terre Haute is to serve people in need, not based upon their religion, Hollinden says.

At the Christmas Store in Indianapolis, every family that is helped is referred by one of 90 social service agencies. Some of the store’s “customers” arrive in wheelchairs and walkers. Once, a person came in a hospital bed. Recently, a woman came for her scheduled time just two hours before she was being induced into labor.

“That’s how important this is to people,” Hollinden says. “We had a single mom who had five children of her own. Her sister died, and she took in all six of her sister’s children. So she was a single mom with 11 kids. I got to know her. She told me that she got all the older kids through high school and kept them out of gangs. She’s so grateful for what the Christmas Store has done for her family.”

Hollinden is thankful for the 11 parishes, the three schools and the many people who have consistently donated toys, household items and money through the years. She’s especially touched by the donations of Catholic school children who send their folded, crunched-up dollar bills, quarters, dimes and nickels to the Christmas Store in Indianapolis.

“It’s children donating to other children,” she says. “People are so generous. They want to help other people. We couldn’t do it without them.”

She views her efforts for the Christmas Store as an expression of her faith.

“You have Jesus saying, ‘Whatever you do for the least of my people, you do for me.’ It embodies the Catholic faith. Pope Francis is always stressing how much we need to help people in need. And all of us are helping people in need. It’s just a wonderful, wonderful thing.”

So is the feeling she gets on Christmas.

“When I celebrate Christmas with my own family, I’m happy to know we’ve helped to make Christmas better in a small way for so many people.”
 

(For information about the Christmas Store in Indianapolis and how to contribute to its efforts, contact Stephanie Davis at 317-236-1556 or by e-mail at sdavis@archindy.org. For information about the Christmas Store in Terre Haute and how to contribute to its efforts, contact Jennifer Buell of Catholic Charities Terre Haute at 812-232-1447 or by e-mail at jbuell@ccthin.org.)

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!