The Christmas Store:
How the High School's Contributions to Hope for the Inner City Will Make an Impact
By Lucy Gray
For this article, I asked a series of questions to Timothy Mahla, Madame Mahla’s husband. He is the Director of Fund Development and Program Support at the Hope For the Inner City. Tory Worley, another person who is involved with the organization, also chimed to help answer some of these questions.
Since Chattanooga Christian School’s high school community hosted a toy drive the week of November 29 - December 3, I thought it would be nice to know more about what students were donating to and whose lives they are impacting by placing those gifts on the tables. The Christmas Store has been around for over two decades. It was created for people to help their neighbors out with getting gifts for their loved ones. By donating to the store, we help our neighbors avoid spending too much of their own money, money often needed for other things.
The difference between this Christmas Store and the general toy drives that take place around this time of year is this: for a regular toy drive, boxes of presents are given to families, which gives the parents no chance to make intentional selections for their kids. The way Hope for the Inner City runs their event is in the name, it is more of a store. The parents/guardians will come in and pick presents that they personally think their children would like instead of being given presents that hold really no sentimental value. The presents the parents pick are offered at a “steeply discounted rate,” and this is so the people who are buying the presents will have little to no guilt about spending money for presents that year.
There are usually more than 1,000 gifts donated to the Christmas Store each year. The gifts come from individual donors, like Chattanooga Christian School students, and from area churches. A beautiful part about all of this is that it not only will bring joy to the little kids who are receiving the gifts, but it also brings a community together while doing so. The store is set up around the lower income areas of Chattanooga so it is easy to access for those who are interested in purchasing for the holiday.
Hope for the Inner City explains how the Christmas Store differs from a traditional toy drive: "We offer hope to low-income families in the community by affirming their dignity and role as providers for their children from a Christ-centered perspective. The Christmas store is a store for a reason. Rather than distribute toys for free, we offer hope to disenfranchised families in the community who are empowered by affordable options. We also temporarily employ community members to operate the store and earn money to purchase toys when they couldn’t otherwise."
I asked Mr. Mahla and Ms. Worley about some of the most rewarding and exciting things that come with this Christmas Store and Hope for the Inner City in general, and here is what they said: Being able to see the dignity that this store gives the shoppers brings them joy. They said that they often hear from the ones who are purchasing that they are extremely grateful for what they are doing. This store brings the community together by offering the chance to donate to those in need and offering the chance to rejoice in the birth of Jesus Christ as one big group. This is something that is incredibly rewarding.
Mr. Mahla and Ms. Worley offer a specific story as an illustration of the relationships between volunteers, shoppers, and Hope for the Inner City staff that keep the store running from year to year. “This year the store will be renamed ‘Ms. Charlsie's Toy Land,’ after one of our neighbors who was a faithful volunteer at our store for years. She took so much ownership of the store, showing other shoppers where they could find the items that interested them, and bringing an energy that was infectious each year. She passed away earlier this year and, in an effort to honor her and her family, the Christmas Store has been renamed in her memory.”
It is a beautiful thing that the Hope For the Inner City organization is doing because they are representing so much through it. They are representing what it means to be a Child of God by performing these acts of service and they are also showing genuine kindness and care for those who might have less than us.
The holidays are often a time where a lot of people forget how lucky they are, so being able to donate and reach out to the less fortunate is a way to keep yourself grounded around this time of year. So go out and get involved in local charities and organizations during this time of year because you never know when you might be making someone's year or holiday season!