The young couple came through the doors to the checkout line with a mound of gifts for their family, thanks to the people of Prestonwood Baptist Church and a volunteer ministry called The Christmas Store.
For more than 20 years, this from-the-heart outreach has enabled shoppers to buy presents at a steep discount—75 percent off retail prices—making the holiday bright while giving shoppers the warm feeling of coming home with gifts they purchased for their families.
The couple was just one of hundreds who first sat in a class to hear a presentation of the Gospel message of salvation, were provided an opportunity to shop, and were given a meal to take home.
“We can give our children presents,” the young woman said in halting English as the couple walked to their car, trailed by volunteers in red “Prestonwood Cares” T-shirts carrying the big red bags of gifts.
With her eyes rimmed with tears, she smiled as Christmas Store volunteers loaded the presents into the back of their car.
Student volunteers pack bags with items purchased by shoppers.
“Thank you to all the people who do this,” she said. “Feliz Navidad ... Merry Christmas.”
Inside the Student Ministry Building, volunteers—many of them families—worked to meet the shoppers’ every need, a beautiful picture of God’s people serving God’s children. Dozens of tables topped with red and green table cloths were stacked high with balls and Barbies and microwaves and deep fryers and clothes and towels. Boxes of bigger items such as bicycles leaned against the tables. The inventory was stocked the same for each of the five stores, with volunteers replenishing the stock after each group of shoppers had made their purchases.
For Tim and Charlotte Lamb, long-time members of Prestonwood and Christmas Store volunteers since the beginning, these extraordinary two days are the culmination of a year of planning and work. But they wouldn’t want it any other way.
The first Christmas Store, back in the mid-1990s, served about 75 families, Tim said, and expanded geographically over the next several years, to pockets in the Spring Valley Road area and down into South Dallas.
The geography has changed over time, he said, as the ministry now focuses on serving about 500 families roughly within a five-mile radius of the Plano Campus.
Volunteers stocked The Christmas Store five times for the 500 shoppers participating in The Christmas Store.
“The needy are right here,” Tim said. “We don’t have to go very far to find people who need assistance.”
From the start, The Christmas Store has been self-sustaining.
Prestonwood families provide many of the gifts, bringing them to special booths in the Atrium at both campuses beginning in late November—stuffed animals, basketballs, dolls, jackets, blankets and household items.
And throughout the year, volunteers scour stores for after-Christmas sales and other deep-discount events to stretch every donated dollar.
That hasn’t changed.
“We have two or three buyers who look for sales all year long,” Tim said.
But no matter how good the savings, The Christmas Store still requires regular donors to ensure a wonderful holiday for the families it serves.
During The Christmas Store’s early days, one faithful family donated $10,000 two years in a row, Tim said.
“Today, we have some people who give $5,000 and some $7,000. One year we were having a tougher year and a member of the church called and said, ‘We’ve decided to give a gift to The Christmas Store,’ and they gave us $10,000,” he said.
Most of the donations are smaller, of course, and some of the funding sources are downright ingenious.
Bill Matthews has been a member of Prestonwood for decades and teaches two Bible Fellowship classes—one on Saturday nights and the other on Sunday mornings—but he didn’t get involved with The Christmas Store until seven or eight years ago.
“What motivated me was the realization that there are people out there who really wouldn’t have (the gifts and holiday dinner) that are such a part of Christmas,” he said. “So I got involved and it’s such a wonderful blessing.”
And when Bill got involved, so did his classes.
Members of his Saturday class love providing hands-on help to The Christmas Store, and many volunteer each year, Bill said.
For the past few years, the Sunday class has held a holiday gathering with an auction as its centerpiece to raise money for The Christmas Store.
“Each person brings a gift and at the end of the party we put those up for auction,” Bill said, “and people will start bidding and sometimes the prices get pretty high.”
The first auction raised about $1,200, Bill said. This year, the auction took in almost $2,500, and several members of the class provided additional donations. Those brought the class total to $5,100.
But it isn’t really about the money, Bill said. It’s about touching people’s lives.
“There have been some times when I’ll see people I recognize from the year before and they are so very, very thankful,” he said.
Volunteers help shoppers keep track of their items as they browse The Christmas Store.
Rebecca Hall and her husband, Glenn, have experienced much the same over the last decade or more.
“The people we actually minister to, we honor them and help make it possible for them to have a decent Christmas,” said Rebecca, “and we try really hard to have enough of everything so everyone gets something on Christmas morning.”
Over the years, Rebecca has filled a number of roles, including supervising security. But now she calls herself “a stopper—when I see a problem, I know enough about the routine that I can pretty much fill any position.”
While sharing the Good News is at the core of the Christmas Store, and providing gifts for families its aim, Rebecca said a third part of the mission helps make Christmas complete—the traditional Christmas dinner.
“They get a turkey and sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce—the whole Christmas dinner—and they get beans and rice so they’ll have something for the next day, too,” Rebecca said.
“That’s the real secret blessing.”
But the greatest blessing is lives changed for all eternity. At this year’s Christmas Store, the Good News was presented in English, Spanish, Farsi and Korean. Forty-three people prayed to receive God’s incredible gift of salvation, making this their greatest Christmas ever.