First-time Manger volunteer Rich gazed around the large shopping room in wonder.
“It’s Christmas morning,” he said.
Indeed it was — 10 times over.
The Manger, GraceWorks annual Christmas gift-giving event, served 832 low-income families in mid-December in eight sessions at Church of the City in Franklin and two sessions at First Baptist Church in Fairview.
All around Rich were volunteers clad in Christmas sweaters and festive accessories, Christmas carols over the sound system, gift-wrappers and volunteers helping families select gifts that their meager resources could not otherwise afford.
Here are glimpses of some moments from this year’s Manger:
The Perfect Bike
Martha* had been trying for two years to save money for a bicycle for her daughter, now 16. But other needs always came first. She scoured thrift stores, but none had a bike large enough.
She pinned her hopes on The Manger, but she was the very last shopper at the first Manger session. She waited more than an hour to enter the shopping area and was nearly certain there would not be a bike the right size left.
But there was.
“That’s it! That’s the perfect bike,” she said, holding her hands to her face and bursting into tears.
The perfect bike was adult-sized, a striking rose-gold color and had a matching helmet and water bottle attached.
Many parents bring their children along because they cannot afford childcare. The parents can select three gifts for each of their children while they are entertained by a helpful volunteer, or as some parents like Sharon* did — instructed her two well-behaved boys to “sit by the tree and chat with each other while I shop.”
One young girl named Ellen* came with her family, and Ellen was allowed to choose her own three gifts. Excited to be able to give on her own, Ellen decided to pick one for herself, one for her sister and one for her mother.
A beaming boy about 5 years old held one bicycle handlebar and his father the other as they walked toward the exit. The father could have easily handled the bike by himself, but the boy was not about to turn loose of his prize.
Clueless baby sister wailed in a stroller while her older sister jumped up and down in excitement. Older sis had realized The Manger was a magical place when she spied shelves full of stuffed animals. She picked nearly each one up, hugged and cuddled it and put it back. Several minutes and cuddles later, she decided on a pink fluffy kitten that exactly matched her pink jacket.
The Volunteer Spirit
One volunteer caught the spirit even before walking to his assignment. He identified himself as “Santa” on his nametag.
“I love seeing people who are so happy, and that we are a part of making them happy,” said Mary* who was volunteering the fourth year at The Manger with her husband.
Lucy* was volunteering as a gift-wrapper this year as a way to give back. Four years ago, her husband suddenly left her and their two children. “I didn’t know what to do. GraceWorks helped me through Christmas and stocked my pantry and helped with a couple of utility bills until I could catch up.”
Anna* was an answered prayer! She was a kind, efficient and bilingual volunteer who helped communicate with neighbors as they entered the shopping floor, which can be a hard job. After she helped the last neighbor shop, she took off her volunteer nametag and put on her registration nametag. She asked a GraceWorks staff person if she could begin her own shopping. She returned the next day, and the day after that to volunteer as well. She truly exhibited our mission statement of Neighbor serving Neighbor!
Thank you for checking off the GraceWorks Christmas wish list:
√ 4 sponsors for The Manger – Thank you Corizon, Cornerstone Financial Credit Union, Two Men and a Truck, and DaySpring for supporting this event.
√ 1,225 volunteers for The Manger – Thank you to everyone who came to set up, personally shop, pray, host registration, wrap gifts, tear down, and more!
√ 2 spaces to host The Manger – Thank you Church of the City for donating your space for a week and First Baptist Church in Fairview for a Saturday!
√ 12,000 toys – Thank you Toys for Tots, to everyone who donated a toy, and to everyone who gave financially to GraceWorks!
√ 3,000 gifts for adults – Thank you to everyone who answered this call!
√ 800 rolls of gift wrap – Thank you to everyone who donated a roll!
The Manger would never have happened without the generosity of our sponsors, our volunteers, and our donors. We could not have done this without you, and GraceWorks is deeply grateful for all.
*Not their real names