INDIANAPOLIS — Baby dolls in pastel sleepers and caps. A blue pickup truck the right size for a toddler to ride. Earbuds and speakers for teens. Shelves of neatly stacked board games.
The gifts were in rows on, and underneath, long folding tables on Saturday, Dec. 18. They transformed a multipurpose building behind a neighborhood church into a Christmas store for a day.
Renewal Neighborhood Ministry operates the store each year in the neighborhood surrounding Charles Warren Fairbanks School 105, part of the Indianapolis Public Schools district. Parents invited to shop there can, for $5, buy a child’s Christmas gifts: two toys, a game, a hat and gloves, and miscellaneous smaller presents such as stocking stuffers.
Organizers say this is a dignified way to come alongside families who could use some help at Christmastime: Rather than present guessed-at gifts to a family, instead invite parents to a shopping experience. There, they can select gifts they know their child would enjoy, pay for them at a discount and present them to the child themselves.
“So that at the end of the day, they have gifts they have selected themselves, paid for themselves and tagged themselves,” said Neighborhood Renewal Minister Mike Wilkins.
Santa greets parents when they pull into the lot and gives each a number. When it’s a parent’s turn to shop, volunteers serve as personal shoppers, guiding parents through the sorted sections of toys, art and science kits, board games and warm accessories. They get to know more about the family, learn if there are other ways Renewal could help, and receive prayer requests.
One shopping guide summoned Jana Stadlberger, from where she was calling out numbers to those waiting, to pray with a woman about her request. They found a quieter place, she began to pray, and the woman began to cry.
“I just hugged her for the longest time, just wanting her to feel the love,” Stadlberger said. “It’s so neat to have those relationships with people, to be able to pray with them and give a hug if we need to.”
Renewal is part of this community near 42nd Street and Post Road in various ways. For several years Renewal volunteers have tutored some Fairbanks students after school and organized summer reading clubs. When schools were closed amid the COVID-19 quarantine in 2020, they helped out with distributing food from the school to families who needed food. When parents in the neighborhood expressed a desire for positive activities for their children, Renewal organized a flag football league.
Those invited to shop at the store are the parents of children in the tutoring or sports programs, or other families that Fairbanks staff suggest for Renewal to invite.
The store is set up in a building owned by Crossroads Bible Church. It is stocked by people, many of them from Outlook Christian Church in McCordsville, who donate new toys and other items. Some watch for after-Christmas or school supply sales; many buy suggested gifts from an Amazon wish list for the store and have them shipped. Some of the Renewal Christmas Store stock comes from what’s left after another, larger ministry conducts its Christmas store. Barbie dolls, soccer balls, lava lamps — in various ways, the store is stocked with its merchandise each year.
When the shopping bag is filled for a child, volunteers take it to the garage of the building, where more volunteers sit at tables to wrap all the gifts. Meanwhile, the parent can sip hot chocolate and fill out the gift tags. People of Outlook make dozens of cookies before the event, and each family takes home a plate of cookies.
“It’s just great to be able to be a part of helping families have Christmas,” said Carli Mellentine, who helped with check-in Saturday and later assisted with the flow of gifts going in and out of the wrapping area. “(It’s) people who love Jesus loving other people, and we’re hoping that is what really shines through.
“We’re doing it out of love.”