San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

November 23rd, 2013
‘Affordable Christmas’ lets needy families buy gifts, keep dignity

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My youngest son has been asking me to put the Christmas tree up for about a week, so I know that Christmas is peeking around the corner of the calendar. We love the Christmas season in our house.

At the same time, throughout our city, the working poor prefer the regular school calendar for a lot of really valid reasons. The holidays often bring increased hours for the working poor, leaving the kids stuck inside the house with siblings or non-parent relatives. Kids who usually eat two meals at school are at home, but not much more than normal is in the pantry and fridge.

Then there are Christmas gifts – parents worry how they will buy anything to give the kids, much less the gift the kids have been waiting for. For several years, my wife and I participated in a program through our church where we adopted a family in need, bought gifts on their list, and then delivered them a day or two before Christmas. It was doomed from the start. We travelled across town and down a street our SUV hadn’t seen before. Then we met a mom happy for the gifts but embarrassed the strangers had to provide them.

Bob Lupton tells of his similar experience in Toxic Charity:

“I would line up suburban families with families [in need]. Then, on Christmas Eve day, they would deliver toys and presents to that family… The moms were generally gracious, but a little subdued. But if there was a dad in the household, he just disappeared. These parents, in front of their kids, were being emasculated. They were being exposed for their inability to provide. The moms would endure that indignity for the sake of kids. But for the dads, it was just too much. It was just killing their pride.”

San Marcos has an alternative program that has affluent families meet needy strangers at a center where they all have a group meal and donated items are given to the needy. A lot of great folk work hard to put it on and it is a better user experience for the volunteers than the adopt-a-family program, but it is no more empowering or relational. In the last two years, we have made friends with many families of the kids that we serve on a weekly basis. Most have taken free gifts but they also confessed to stretching to buy gifts they want to give their kids that “are really from them.”

The reality is the free gifts usually do not eliminate an unmet need, but they may overshadow what the parents provide and take a good measure of their dignity in the process.

At Mission San Marcos, we are dedicated to changing the future of San Marcos through enduring relationships and empowering local families.

No local Christmas program meshes with our mission, so we had to look to the work of Lupton and an organization in St. Louis who have focused on helping families with the cost burden of gifts they buy for their kids while preserving the dignity and pride of the families.

The key difference is they moved from a give away to an effort to make what the families would do anyway more affordable. This year, we are piloting a similar approach in San Marcos, but with a narrow focus on families and neighborhoods where we already have relationships — to make this an Affordable Christmas.

The nuts and bolts of Affordable Christmas are really pretty simple. We are collecting gifts at a number of places across San Marcos from now through Dec. 22. At the same time, we are inviting families in need with whom we have a relationship to participate. It will be an Affordable Christmas for the participating families, because we will make their money stretch further.

A donated gift with a retail value of $10 may go for $2 while a gift with a retail value of $50 may go for $15. The money we end up collecting and the cash we raise through donations will go to purchase specific items the parent wants to buy a child. It is unlikely these specific gifts will end up in one of our collection boxes (although we hope so), so we will have to buy them so we can turn around and sell them crazy cheap.

Once the collecting and buying is done, we will put together our own Affordable Christmas store at a local elementary cafeteria. The participating families will each RSVP for a specific shopping window on Dec. 22 when they will buy their kids presents at our Affordable Christmas store. A lot of other cool stuff will probably happen if we don’t make it too planned, but those stories are for a later blog.

Inevitably, some families may choose not to participate in favor of a more traditional model where the gifts are free, but we are aiming for a deep impact instead of a wide reach. Our goal is that the participating families will be empowered to provide gifts to their children the same way we do for our families.

If you want to help, we need you. The easiest way to help is to donate new, unwrapped gifts at the partner pick-up locations around San Marcos that are listed below.

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San Marcos attorney JOHN McGLOTHLIN is executive director of Mission San Marcos. He welcomes your ideas and suggestions — and offers of donations and volunteers. He can be reached by email here.

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