MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

December 9, 2012

Church members lend a hand

Joy of Giving Shoppe makes season merry for children

 Jacob Tarepen said he thinks the members of Bethany Presbyterian are doing a great thing by helping children provide gifts for their parents.

“It’s nice because it gives people without a lot of money a chance to give gifts,” said Tarepen, 17, who brought his cousins to Bethany for the church's annual Joy of Giving Shoppe. “I’m really thankful to the church for putting it on. This helps my family out a lot.”

Christmas carols rang through the fellowship hall of Bethany Presbyterian Church on Saturday morning as workers busily prepared snacks and coffee for the visitors they were about to receive.

The members of the church hosted the annual Joy of Giving Shoppe, which provides a shopping trip of sorts for children who want to get their parents or guardians a Christmas gift, but don’t have the money to buy one.

Virginia Keeling, who is a co-coordinator of the event, said she wasn’t sure how long she’s been doing it, or even how long it’s been going on, but she has been there since the inception.

“A former minister of ours started the program,” Keeling said. “I’ve been helping since it started. We want to give children the experience of giving their caretakers a present for Christmas.”

The age group for the Shoppe is from 3 years old all the way to 16. It all starts when families are applying for the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program. Keeling interviews families after the application process, then gives them times for their children to come “shop.”

“These kids are so excited to give a gift to their guardians,” she said. “We have a limit of 175 kids, but we rarely have that many. We like to do it early enough in December so it’s not too hectic for the families.”

The process for the Shoppe is very streamlined. The kids come in and are given name tags. Then, an adult comes to walk them through the store, where they each get an item for their parents or guardians. They are then walked to the wrapping room, where church members box, wrap, and bag their gifts for them.

The gifts are varied, ranging from tool sets and cologne for the dads, and bags, lotions, and perfume sets for the moms. The tables in the gift room are always full, and they add to it regularly.

Alexis Nelson, another co-coordinator and the official shopper, said she and her team purchase about 350 gifts each year.

“We start right after Christmas,” Nelson said. “I’ve been known to stop families in stores and ask the kids what they think their parents would like for Christmas. My husband laughs because sometimes all the shopping makes me not want to get gifts for my own family.”

Around 100 youth went through the halls of Bethany Presbyterian Church on Saturday, each leaving with a sack full of gifts, a belly full of cookies, and a smile on their face. Nelson said for her, that’s what it’s all about.

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