Seven years ago, Three Creeks church in Gahanna, Ohio, had the idea of opening a one-day, pop-up toy store at Christmas for their community. The goal was twofold: to support as many Christmases for residents of Gahanna as possible and to support their local school district.
Over the years the Gahanna Gift Shop has grown, and this year 145 people volunteered, 1,875 toys were donated, and 243 families were served. Three Creeks Lead Pastor Joel Trainer said, “As a pastor, it’s thrilling to see all of these people in our church being generous with both their money and time, all in an effort to serve those who are in need.”
The whole Gift Shop experience is designed around showing the love of Jesus while meeting a practical need. The Gift Shop serves people in the community who need a little extra help in making Christmas special for their family by providing the opportunity to purchase new toys for $2 each. All of the proceeds from the shop are donated back to the community.
All throughout the experience the shopper is interacting with volunteers. Upon arrival the shopper is connect with a host who guides them through the process. Once the shopper has purchased their items, they are escorted to the gift wrapping station where a volunteer wraps and labels their items while they enjoy refreshments and conversation with their host, who has the chance to get to know the shopper and offer to pray with them.
Not only has the Gift Shop grown in the community around Three Creeks—with other churches, businesses, and organizations participating—but the concept has spread to other Charis Fellowship churches as well. This year, Grace Polaris Church in Westerville, Ohio, hosted their own Gift Shop. The Polaris Gift Shop had 135 volunteers, 917 toys donated, and 72 families served. “The Gift Shop format has provided a very personal way for our church family to show the love of Jesus to families in our community who are in need at Christmas,” said Sonya Valentine, coordinator of the Polaris Gift Shop.
“We are able to have one-on-one conversations about their families and their lives, letting them know someone cares and will pray with them,” Sonya said. “Several international families were matched with hosts who actually spoke their native tongue. It was so exciting to see them relax and smile through the whole experience all because they didn’t have to worry about speaking English.”
Joel said, “I love getting to watch people in our church ‘walk in the way of love’ like Jesus and live in an others-oriented way. We’re seven years into this thing, and we can’t wait to do it again, and we’re excited to know that two other churches are now doing their own Gift Shops. Maybe this thing will keep spreading! We sure hope so.”