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LSS brings dignity to holiday gifts

Braving one of the snowiest days in Twin Cities history, scores of Phillips neighborhood residents in Minneapolis participated in the Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS) Holiday Store at the Center for Changing Lives on Park Avenue in mid-December. Parents and children were able to buy holiday gifts for family members at a negligible cost.
The holiday store concept is described in Robert Lupton’s book Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life (Regal Books, 2007). There the author writes, “Perhaps the deepest poverty of all is to have nothing of value to offer in exchange. Charity that fosters such poverty must be challenged.”

Sylvia Thompson (left), Minneapolis, shops for Christmas gifts for her children at the Lutheran Social Service Holiday Store on a snowy December Saturday. Terrie Eggers, a member of St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church (ELCA), Eden Prairie, Minnesota, is a volunteer helping Thompson sort through the many options to find just the right gift for her children. Metro Lutheran photo: Bob Hulteen

Cindy Johnson, LSS volunteer services coordinator, was challenged by those words. She remembered an adopt-a-family Christmas program where a congregation provided a bicycle for a four-year-old. Johnson saw the mother crying and asked her about her tears. The mother said, “Don’t think I’m not grateful, but I always wanted to give my child his first bike.” Johnson reflected, “I saw the powerlessness of not having enough capacity” to provide for one’s own family.
The LSS Holiday Store encourages independence and self-assurance for low-income families by enabling them to buy their own gifts at significantly reduced cost. Both children and adults could participate. For
$2 per child, an adult could select and purchase gifts for their children. For $1 per parent, children could buy presents for moms and dads.

God incarnate in the holiday season

When Johnson first was inspired to try this experiment, she invited St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Eden Prairie; St. Philip the Deacon, Plymouth; and Shepherd of the Valley, Apple Valley; to support this new model of compassion. She was “impressed with how they took on the challenge.” The congregations took donations for the holiday store and pledged volunteers to staff the store on its one day of operation. “All I did was cheer them on,” Johnson added.
More than 2,000 gifts were donated. Over 100 people volunteered to serve as “personal shoppers” to assist program participants at the store. The confirmation class at St. Andrew’s took donations of money and purchased items that filled out the store. In the end, 400 families in south Minneapolis were served by the effort.
St. Andrew’s volunteer Terrie Eggers, from Eden Prairie, said, “It is a great experience to watch the kids shop for themselves from a wide variety [of choices] for their parents. The Holiday Store is a great idea.”
“Earlier today I went up to a woman in tears,” Johnson told Metro Lutheran. “I asked her if everything was okay. She said, ‘I got everything my kids wanted. God is with me today.’”

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