On Saturday, I found myself at Catholic Charities of West Tennessee (CCWTN) preparing to go shopping for a family of nine. I had initially assumed this meant I would be jumping in my car and heading to the nearest Target. As it turned out, I only had to walk across the parking lot and into a gymnasium filled with toys, clothes, and food. All of these donated items had been sorted into boxes by size, gender, age, and purpose, and an army of volunteers was about to make sure they all ended up in the hands of people who needed them.
The premise of the Gifts for God’s Children program seemed simple enough. Each volunteer picked up a bag and an application submitted to Fig Tree Emergency Services by a family in need, then proceeded to “shop” through the gym for the items requested. In reality, this annual endeavor takes a tremendous amount of volunteer support to collect, sort, organize, and distribute all the food and gifts. I asked Lucie Johnson, Coordinator of Supportive Services at CCWTN, if this seemingly novel approach to helping at-risk families at Christmas was a recent development. She told me that they had been using this method for years. As I made my way around the gym, I could see how much planning had gone into making this complex undertaking seem simple to the people who showed up to help out.
In theory, each volunteer would fill a bag for a family, check out with a volunteer at the front of the gym, and then start over with a new application. In reality, I never made it to round two. The first application I picked up was for a family with eight children, six of whom were under 10 years old. By the time I had picked through the dozens of boxes of toys and clothing to find the perfect match for each child on my list, the rest of the applications had already been picked up by other volunteers. Hundreds of bags were packed and ready for delivery in less than two hours.
The eyes of the volunteer who checked me out grew wide as I heaved my bag of gifts onto the table. “Woah!” she said. “I think we’re going to need a bigger bag,” I replied. We transferred the toy cars and teddy bears and dolls to a new bag, which would be delivered along with a box of food to the parent who filled out the application. As I left the gymnasium, I thought about the sheer number of people and hours required to successfully pull off an undertaking like Gifts for God’s Children. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this experience was how seamless it felt to me. I was thankful that Fig Tree and CCWTN were meeting a need in the community, and I was especially grateful that they had made it so easy to get involved.
To learn about volunteer opportunities with CCWTN, visit www.ccwtn.org/volunteer.