Charleston Christmas Store Spreads New Kind of Cheer

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For the last seven years, low income Charleston residents have had access to a very special holiday store run by members of First Baptist Church (FBC) in Charleston. The concept is simple – ‘neighbors’ can buy new, donated items at up to 90 percent off of retail prices. According to FBC Minister to Children Emory Hiott, the ministry embodies the spirit of Christmas, while promoting dignity.

“Over the years, we noticed that people didn’t like to feel like a charity case, receiving things someone else chose for them. Many honestly look for ways to be the provider but don’t always have the finances to do it,” says Hiott.

christmas-store2She began researching Christmas giving ideas that reflected what she calls a more Christ-like, honoring way of blessing others. Hiott learned about another church’s successful Christmas store and decided FBC Charleston could give it a try.

“Now we see mostly men coming in who are able to walk away with dignity and pride as the provider for their family. They know the gift prices are leveled out, but they are still paying something, which instills a sense of hope that we haven’t found in other programs,” says Hiott.

Church members immediately embraced the idea and shopped from idea lists that included gifts for children of all ages, clothes, and simple toiletries. Now an elementary school hosts the one-day Charleston Christmas Store in a location more accessible to targeted communities, the church sets up the inventory there, and members volunteer to staff it. There is free gift wrapping, and the church provides a prayer area on-site. The first year the store was open, families that Hiott says the church was already aware of were invited to shop there. In years since, it has relied on local schools and organizations to identify additional neighbors in the community.

“We try not to screen the shoppers and have an open door policy for the store. Neighbors get a ‘passport’ for shopping sections, based on the amount of money they have to spend. This helps limit how much they can buy which ensures there’s enough for other shoppers,” says Hiott.

This year, the church will open a second location of The Charleston Christmas Store at a neighborhood community center. In the future, Hiott says she hopes to partner with more organizations and businesses for local support and work with churches in other areas of the state to allow this different concept of holiday giving to reach new communities.

“Jesus loved people. He was never about handouts; He was about hand-ups. I imagine He would look at some of the ways that we think of Christmas as not helping to edify others. People in low income communities have a lot to offer with gifts and talents that can be encouraged. It’s worthwhile to look at how we can give differently and to be able to encourage that as well,” says Hiott.

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