Affordable Christmas

Affordable Christmas 2017

Affordable Christmas 2016

Affordable Christmas spreads cheer
Youth Foundation credits community for boosting 3rd annual special 'store'
The weather outside was frightful with temperatures in the teens and icy roads. Inside, the line of shoppers stretched from one end of the building to the next, but the Christmas spirit was warm. Sunday's third annual Affordable Christmas brought in scores of parents and families to purchase toys, games and other gifts at super discounts for children. In the end, gifts were "sold" for 578 children, over 100 more than last year, according to Kelly Hatton, of the Jennings County Youth Foundation (JCYF), the nonprofit group behind the event. "This is by far our biggest ever and it is going very well," Hatton said early during the event at the Jennings County Education Center, the former Early Learning Center, in North Vernon. "We have a great group of volunteers, which is keeping everything moving smoothly. We had so many donations that we started with an inventory of $15,000 in retail value. People were giving merchandise to us up until the final minute."

The concept, as Hatton explained, is to provide a strong measure of dignity for people in need who, without charity, could not give their children much, if anything, for Christmas. "This is about giving people a hand-up, not a handout," Hatton said.  The toys and other items, which included everything from bicycles to virtual reality headsets, were priced at around 75 percent off retail cost. Items ranged in price from $1 to $20. For each child, three items could be purchased but no more than $20 per child.

The money collected, $5,768, will go toward next year's "store" and to expand the program. That will include working with other local charitable organizations. "In keeping with our mission, we want to collaborate with other groups to serve even more kids next year," said Sunshine Galliher, another JCYF volunteer who is the group's current president. Volunteers, not just with JCYF, are what made it all possible, Hatton and Galliher agreed. Some volunteers helped unload trucks and set up the rooms were items were displayed for sale, others served as "personal shoppers" who accompanied parents. "One volunteer reached into her own pocket for an on-the-spot donation to help cover the cost of toys for a single parent," Galliher said. It was an impressive display.

"The volunteers did a wonderful job," Hatton said. "In the days before, we had 38 volunteers on two separate occasions and on the big day we had 30 volunteers. "Being a personal shopper is a very rewarding experience because you get to speak with people and help them pick out some amazing gifts! Whether it's behind the scenes or side by side with the shoppers, our volunteers are making a difference right here, right now," Hatton added. Members of the Barefoot Bandits 4-H Club provided free gift wrapping, keeping busy throughout the afternoon not only doing that but also helping carry gifts out to vehicles for parents. "We are super grateful to the Barefoot Bandits," Galliher said.

JCYF started the Affordable Christmas store program in 2013 after becoming aware of a similar program done by Mission St. Louis "People are getting the concept now," said Hatton, crediting JCYF's diligence in raising awareness among various groups and organizations who then helped with increased marketing and publicity. "This includes a wonderful partnership with the Jennings County School Corporation and those involved with JCYF like Angie Donnell and Amanda Hoyt." Despite the sometimes long line of shoppers Sunday, no one was turned away. The shoppers were impressed with the variety of choices available this year, which made it difficult for them to decide what to buy. "One parent I spoke to waited in line for over two hours but was grateful for the warmth and the opportunity to stretch her money further," Galliher said. "Another recently lost her husband and was referred to the Affordable Christmas program by one of the local food pantries. "What a great example of our community pulling together to help each other," she added.
Amanda Hoyt, left, who served as a personal shopper volunteer Sunday, helps a mother pick out toys for her children at lst Sunday’s Affordable Christmas Store.—Staff Photo by Bryce Mayer