In the beginning, families were adopted by community residents, Sunday school groups or area businesses, but in order to allow parents in need to do their own Christmas shopping, the procedure was changed to a gift card distribution program.
“We team up with Salvation Army to interview applicants,” explained April LaFollette, program coordinator of Interfaith Ministries. “Those who are approved receive Walmart gift cards that can only be used for food, clothing or toys.”
The success of Christmas Clearinghouse depends on the coordinated effort of dozens of volunteers who unite from a network of community churches including Anniston’s First United Methodist, Sacred Heart Catholic, First Presbyterian, Haven United Methodist, Grace Episcopal, Temple Beth-El, Trinity Lutheran and this year’s host church, Parker Memorial Baptist.
Parker Memorial’s co-chairs, Marcelle Battle and Kathy Weiser, along with committee heads Estelle Roberson and Diane Adams, are overseeing groups of volunteers covering four specific areas. One team interviews applicants, another team handles publicity and a third distributes the gift cards. The final team comes along later to write thank you notes to contributors.
“We are entering a season of kindness, generosity and joy,” said LaFollette. “It is with these thoughts in mind that our volunteers serve the needy in this community.”
But the volunteers get something out of it too.
Weiser remembers one woman who, instead of toys, asked if her children could have a mattress: “She said their mattress was so old, the springs had broken through and were poking her children in the back as they slept.”
And then there was a married couple, both laid off from their jobs and embarrassed to ask for help.
“I told them I would pray for them and ask our Lord to meet their needs,” Weiser said. “I felt blessed for the opportunity to encourage them.”
Funding for the purchase of gift cards comes from donations from individuals, area businesses and faith organizations.
“Every dollar is given away through this program,” emphasized LaFollette. “Nothing is held over or routed to other programs.”
Donations are tax-deductible and can be mailed to Christmas Clearinghouse at 431 Gurnee Ave., Anniston, AL 36201. Memorials and honorariums are gratefully accepted and will be properly acknowledged.
Donna Barton has been an Anniston resident for more than 35 years. She is a former graphics designer who has volunteered with Knox Concert Series and Community Actors Studio Theatre. She is the chairperson for the annual Center of Concern Celebrity Roast and is a recent addition to the Friends of the Public Library board. She and her husband, Tim, live in Golden Springs and are active members of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.