The members of Opportunity Presbyterian Church know it is that time of year, the time when church youths ask for donations of new toys for the toy store they put on every December. The church members have been generous, but toys seem to be coming in slower this year, said director of youth ministries Luke Pillsbury.
“Things are a little tighter this year in terms of donations,” he said “I had to push pretty hard toward the end, but we’re on track. It’s looking good.”
Everything needs to be looking good, because the store opens today, and today only. The store offers new toys at an 80 percent discount to low-income families. It’s an invitation-only store, with tickets handed out through school counselors and organizations that serve the poor.
“I’ve had people call and ask for tickets,” Pillsbury said. “Word gets out.”
The toys are provided at a steep discount instead of for free for a reason, Pillsbury said. It’s important for parents to feel like they’re contributing to a good Christmas for their kids, he said.
“They get a little bit of a sense of ownership,” he said. “It’s not a straight handout. That goes a long way for parents who are struggling.”
This is Pillsbury’s second year running the store. “That was my first big project last year,” he said. “I came in about two weeks before the toy store.”
Last year 175 families were served, an increase of 50 families from the year before. Each child up to age 12 gets two presents and a stocking stuffer. Last year there were just enough presents to go around. “We got rid of everything we had and no one was turned away,” he said.
This week Pillsbury headed up the final planning. The church youth planned a shopping trip for Wednesday night to spend $2,000 in donations and proceeds from last year’s event to buy more toys. The church’s storage room is piled with dolls, toy trucks, stuffed animals and games, but it’s not enough. “Last year we had about a dozen youth, grabbed six carts and just ransacked Wal-Mart,” Pillsbury said. “They’re a lot more aware of what’s hot and what’s not.”
The young people were also in charge of decorating the waiting room for the toy store. Today they will serve refreshments, wrap presents and run the nursery. Add in a little Christmas music and it creates a festive environment. “The biggest thing I hear back is just how welcoming and inviting it is,” he said.
In return the church youth often are more appreciative of what they have, Pillsbury said. “They don’t realize how good they have it sometimes,” he said.
As Pillsbury put on the final touches to the church’s fifth annual event this week, he was already considering how to improve it for next year. Pillsbury said he would like to approach local stores about buying toys at a discount, which requires months of advance planning. “We’ve been growing this and expanding on this every year,” he said.