Giftmart makes Christmas season more cheerful for many
By Bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org December 15, 2012 8:34PM
Dancers from the Leap of Faith Art Ministries perform Dec. 15, 2012, during the Community Christian Church Giftmart at Isaac Singleton Elementary School in Joliet, where families can purchase toys for $2 each. | Jean Lachat~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 17, 2013 6:13AM
JOLIET — The Christmas spirit was abundant Saturday as hundreds showed up to buy donated toys priced at $2.
The annual Giftmart event at Isaac Singleton Elementary Schools is organized by Community Christian Church in Shorewood.
“It gets bigger every year,” said Bob Lowe of Joliet, the chief organizer of the event for the church.
It gets better, too, said a few of the 1,300-plus shoppers who were expected to show up to buy toys before the day was done.
“It’s very nice,” said Joliet parent Isabel Perez. “For us, they help a lot. Sometimes, we don’t have money to buy presents. The event is very special.”
Community Christian Church, which has 12 locations in the Chicago area, started Giftmart in East Aurora 10 years ago. For the past five years, it’s been in both Joliet and East Aurora.
The church generates the gifts by asking people to donate toys with a value of $6 to $20. Then all toys are sold at $2. The proceeds go to the host schools.
The sale in Joliet is held for students at Isaac Singleton and A.O. Marshall Elementary Schools. Students get a ticket that they take home. They come back with their parents on Giftmart day, and the ticket allows the parents to buy as many as four gifts.
There is music, donuts and crafts for kids who are watched in a separate part of the building as parents buy them their gifts. Volunteers even wrap gifts.
“I really love it,” said Tiffany Barefield, who has two sons at A.O. Marshall. “They organize it the right way. They didn’t make us wait a long time. They watch your kids while you’re shopping.”
There are probably retailers who could learn something at Giftmart.
The very cheerful mood of the 300 volunteers running the event isn’t solely an outburst of good will at Christmastime. Good cheer is part of the plan for the day, although Lowe said it also does come naturally to the people who help.
“My experience is that you get people involved, and they want to give and give and give,” Lowe said. “The more they help others, the more they want to do it.”
The process appears to run like a well-oiled machine. Although with hundreds of parents lining up, many did have to wait outside in the rain before getting in. But return Giftmart shoppers said the wait was shorter this year, even though the attendance was higher.
Once inside, Giftmart shoppers wait their turn in an auditorium where they are entertained by live music and a youth dance group. Then, they move on to the snack room, where donuts and cocoa are served. Children are then separated from parents, guided by volunteers called “shepherds” to the activity rooms where they can color and make crafts until the parents return.
Parents move on to the toy shop, lined with tables of new toys.
“The bigger the better to the shopper,” said Lisa Karban of Shorewood, a volunteer organizer for the toy shop. “We’re doing very well with big trucks and big cars.”
Parents then could have the presents gift-wrapped before leaving, serenaded by a youth band playing Christmas tunes at the exit door.
If it all looks easy, Giftmart does depend on a bit of a Christmas miracle each year. Lowe said it always looks like there won’t be enough toys until just a few days before the event. That was true this year, too, he said, until he got an email to give a potential donor a call.
“They said, ‘We found a thousand dollars. Can we give it to you?’ That’s what makes it happen,” Lowe said. “It happens every year.”