Stories of Volunteers

Why we do Toy Store for Jesus (shared by Pastor Allen Mullins, March 2015)

Two weeks ago during our meet and greet time of Sunday morning worship, a young man about ten years old came up and gave me one of the best blessings a pastor can receive. As he shook my hand and hugged my neck, he said, “Pastor Allen, I had to write an essay in school about a community hero. I wrote about you.” My heart swelled up and never have I felt such a sense of pride and joy. This young man was from a family that had just moved into our community shortly before Christmas and had visited on a couple of occasions. As Christmas time approached the mother identified that she was a single mother, unemployed and unable to provide anything for her four children for Christmas. She was connected with the Toy Store and came back to church excitedly stating that Toy Store provided generously to allow her children to have Christmas. This young lady is now regularly attending our church and only seems to miss on the Sundays she has to work. If that were end of the story it would be a lot. But, better still, that same young man approached me this past Sunday and informed me that he had invited Jesus into his heart and wanted to be baptized. This is the ministry and success of churches working together with the ministry of Toy Store.

Christmas brings out the best in people,

when words like “joy” and “love” become actions instead of just nice thoughts.  People start to look outside of themselves and their own little worlds, realizing their blessings as they remember the gift God gave the world so many years ago.

At the Toy Store for Jesus, Amy witnessed firsthand the impact that giving can have, and she was amazed by the generosity of the guests who shop at the store.

“When people were checking out, many of them gave extra (monies) and told me to give this back to the store,” Amy said.

The store meant so much to these parents that they wanted to give whatever they could to help someone else.  In a time when they were struggling to provide for their families, they were thinking about others.

“’Give this back to people who don’t even have this much,’ is what they told me,” Amy said.

 

He apologized several times for being dirty . . .

As a regular volunteer at the center, Barbara decided that she would give her spare time to the toy store one Christmas.  She worked as a greeter, welcoming the guests and making them feel comfortable with the store.  She volunteered on the day that the store reaches out to Hispanics in the community, and she enjoyed interacting with the guests and getting to know them.

“I really enjoyed being a greeter, and that’s what I would want to do again,” Barbara said.

As guests continued to arrive, Barbara welcomed one man who had just come from working at a construction site.  He had come straight from work to ensure that his children would have a Christmas.

“He apologized several times for being dirty, and went in the back to wash up as much as he could,” Barbara said.  “I was amazed at how grateful he was for what we were doing.”

Both this man and his wife accepted Jesus that day. The love that the staff showed them led to the eternal love that will comfort and sustain them through every Christmas.

“They were just so thankful,” Barbara said.

 

God has a beautiful habit of using everything for His purposes—

even Thomas the Train Engine.  Colleen saw that the toy train was used but in great condition, just waiting for a little boy to take him home.  All of the toys that the parents can receive are new, but she felt led to put this particular toy in with the new toys.

“A mother came in and immediately went right to that toy,” Colleen said. “It was exactly what she was looking for.”

The mother was so excited to find that toy, even though it wasn’t brand new.  She got to give her child exactly what he wanted for Christmas.

“God even used the toys that weren’t new to minister to people,” Colleen said.

Like so many others who shop at the store, God impacted this mother through something as simple as a toy.  He gave Thomas the Train Engine the perfect home, and He gave a mother, the joy of giving her son exactly what he wanted.

 

Toy store gives us a way to serve . . .

Some of the parents who shop at the Toy Store for Jesus have lost their jobs or have fallen on difficult times temporarily.  They have never been in the position of worrying about putting presents under the tree, yet here they are.  Some struggle year after year to provide for their families, and they dread December and the stress it brings.

Whatever their stories or situations, Dixie loves to shop with the families and get to know them.  She’s volunteered for years, and between scheduling appointments and helping the families shop, she’s seen many aspects of the store.

“You can just see the impact—from the people who have short term need to the people who return every year,” Dixie said. “You can see what God is doing in their lives.”

The value of the store does not lie in giving toys away, but rather in using toys to show Jesus to the families.  Dixie realizes how special this opportunity is, and it is one of the reasons that she continues to volunteer her time and efforts year after year.

“The toy store is such a wonderful experience because it gives us a way to serve,” Dixie said.

 

Families are just regular people . . .

One Christmas Fred was hit with the reality that the families who shop at the store are just regular people.

Fred clearly remembers meeting the woman who helped him understand this reality.  She and her husband had just moved to North Carolina for her husband’s job, away from their family who lived out of state.  Her husband lost his job three months after they moved.

“She had no job, had nothing,” Fred said. “They had good jobs, and uncontrollable circumstances brought them here.  If it hadn’t been for the toy store, they wouldn’t have had a Christmas.”

She couldn’t stop thanking everyone at the store, and Fred remembers how grateful she was for the people who had cared enough to give them toys.

“The thing that I noticed the most is that these people are just like me,” Fred said.  “That could easily be me in that situation.”

Fred firmly believes that the gospel is the single most important part of the store, and he knows that showing Jesus’ love means everything.

“Knowing that they’re there to hear the gospel, that’s what really impacts me,” Fred said.

 

God loves to make broken things into beautiful things, even when it comes to toys . . .

Betty Jo had found an old wagon in a trash pile, so she cleaned it up and brought it to use for bringing things in and out of the toy store.

One day, two grandparents came to shop and were desperate to find a wagon for their grandchild.  There were no more wagons at the store, but Betty Jo told them that there was a used wagon if they’d like to see it.

“We brought it out and they just went crazy,” Betty Jo said. “It was exactly what they were looking for.  That little old wagon ended up really helping someone, all because I pulled it out of a trash heap.”

 

People want to help children wake up to presents on Christmas morning . . .

Giving children toys on Christmas is a mission that inspires generosity throughout the community, and it is one of the reasons that Toy Store for Jesus is able to impact so many lives.

Churches give toys and money, stores give discounts for the purchase of new toys, and volunteers give their time in the busy Christmas season.  Long time volunteer Deana has witnessed the generosity that the toy store inspires time after time, and it still amazes her.

Deana is part of a team that buys new toys that parents can shop for in the toy store.

“I go do the shopping for the toys to put in the store,” Deana said. “Many times, we have had people ask what we were doing and donate money on the spot.”

Even when people have no background with the store and don’t know anything about it, they want to help children wake up to presents Christmas morning.

 

Often, the toy store reaches people at a time when they need it most . . . sometimes when they are at the end of their own strength.

Just hours before a young lady was killed at a gas station, Don got to speak with her at the toy store.  As a counselor, Don was able to share that Jesus loved her.

“I feel very comfortable that she’s now in heaven,” Don said.

The young lady’s grandparents were not sure at the time where she stood in her faith, but Don’s conversation with her assured him that she knew Jesus.  In a time of tragedy, God used Don’s conversation to bring peace to the young lady’s family.

In another situation, God used the counseling at the toy store to reach a woman who had decided life wasn’t worth much anymore.

“I was able to counsel a lady that was contemplating suicide,” Don said.

Don prayed with her, counseled her, and gave her resources in the community that could help.  The woman did not commit suicide, and Don is thankful that God used him to intervene in her life when she was feeling desperate and unloved.

“That was very powerful,” Don said.

 

God has a purpose for me and is using me . . .

Personally bringing a guest to the toy store helped open Jan’s eyes to the purpose and plan that God has for her life, and she got the opportunity to extend the family of God to the community outside her church.

Jan was involved in the Crisis Ministry, and the sense of belonging that she felt at the center led her to volunteer at the toy store.

“I really developed a sense of family with the volunteers,” Jan said.

Jan was able to serve as a table filler, helping pick out which toys would go where.  She would arrange the toys so that the parents could easily find what they wanted for their children

“I loved the huge piles of toys, choosing what would be on the tables,” Jan said.  “I loved looking for something particular that guests wanted for their child.”

She knew that God was using the toy store to reach out to a hurting world, so Jan kept her eyes open for any opportunity to let God use her as well.  That opportunity came through something as simple as tutoring.  Jan was a tutor at Mitchell Community College, and she became friends with a woman she tutored.

“I was able to help her personally,” Jan said. “We would talk about the Lord.”

Jan was able to open an opportunity for the woman to shop at the toy store, and she later realized the huge impact she had as a result of letting God use her life.

“She sent me a note telling me that she thought I was an angel,” Jan said. “I had no idea that I had made that much of a difference.  I just realized that God really has a purpose for me and is using me.”

God used Jan to extend the family she experienced at the center to the community, and Jan is still thankful for the people she connected with while volunteering.

“I never felt like I belonged anywhere as much as at The Baptist Center,” Jan said.

 

Taking the time to care . . .

Many times, the ministry of the toy store extends even beyond providing children with toys for Christmas, as Jana experience when she was able to show the love of Jesus to one of the guests in an extremely practical, life-changing way.

“There was a mom who had just split up with her husband, and she didn’t have a job,” Jana said.

As they talked, Jana began to help the woman think through how to get a job.  Jana tried to give her tips about how to get an interview, where to take her resume, and how to dress.

“By the end of December, she was working in Wal-Mart and had a job,” Jana said. “I was so happy for her.”

Jana firmly believes that the most important aspect of the store is that each family hears the gospel, and she made a huge difference in someone’s life just by taking the time to care.

 

I can still see her face . . .

One Christmas, Jane was reminded of the selflessness that God showed when He sent his only son to earth on Christmas morning.

As the woman walked into the store, God laid her on Jane’s heart.

“You could tell that this woman just really needed the help,” Jane said.  “I just wanted to give her everything in the store.”

Jane helped the mother shop, talking with her and listening to her. Jane learned that she had three children, and she was so grateful that she could give them Christmas presents this year.

After the woman had shopped, they came to the table of free, used toys.  Jane told her to pick out as many toys as she needed for her children.

She had three kids, but she picked out only one toy.  When Jane assured her that she could at least take a few more, she smiled, shaking her head.

“Oh no, that’s okay . . . I don’t want to take something from someone else,” the mother said.

Despite her personal struggle to provide for her children, the mother wanted to make sure that other kids had enough toys.  Her selflessness amazed Jane, and she still remembers how thankful the woman was.

“I can still remember her,” Jane said. “I can still see her face.”

 

It was the young couple’s first time shopping at Toy Store for Jesus . . .

and they were astonished by what they saw.

Kathy helped them pick out toys for their child, and as they talked, the mother wanted to know what she could do to help.

“Next year, can I volunteer?” the mother said. “Can I donate things that my child can’t use anymore?”

Kathy was amazed that the woman’s first thought was how she could help others have the same opportunity she was given.

“It really struck me, and it just made a huge impact,” Kathy said.  “Her willingness to give back—it was really neat to see.”

 

She could give her kids Christmas presents . . .

Many of the Toy Store for Jesus guests are appreciative and thankful for the ministry, and it astonishes them to know that people care enough to give their children a Christmas.

Kisha, a longtime volunteer, was taking phone calls and scheduling guests to come to the store.  One woman had been invited to the store for the first time, and she couldn’t believe that she would be able to put presents under the tree.

“She was just blown away that someone would do that for her,” Kisha said. “She was in tears because she was so amazed and grateful that she could give her kids Christmas presents.”

 

Give them a big hug . . .

Linda loves being able to give a little extra encouragement to the families she shops with at Toy Store for Jesus.

“I always pray for them and give them a big hug,” Linda said.

As a shopper’s aide, Linda enjoys getting to know the parents and learning their stories.  Shopping with the families gives her an opportunity to spend a little more time with them, and she always makes sure to give them that big hug before they leave.

“I always appreciate how happy and thankful they are,” Linda said.

 

Giving a Christmas they did not think they would have . . .

As the woman chose dolls and building blocks for her teenage daughter, Natalie saw her face light up.

The mother had several children, and one of her daughters was severely disabled.  The daughter was in her teens, but was at the mental level of a toddler.  Natalie shopped with the mother, helping her choose toys from the toddler section that would make her daughter happy.

“She was so excited to be picking out these seemingly insignificant toys,” Natalie said.  “It made it a lot of fun.”

The mother loved her precious daughter, and she was thrilled to be able to get her the toys that she wanted.  God used the store to bring joy to both mother and child, giving them a Christmas that they didn’t think they would have.

 

Out the door singing and shouting . . .

Toy Store for Jesus provides joy and happiness for children on Christmas, but more importantly, it provides a way to show people how deeply God loves them.

Jeanette loves to see the parents’ faces when they find the special toy they want for their child, and she loves to see them join God’s family even more.

“I remember one woman who was saved – she went out the door singing and shouting because she was so filled with joy about what Jesus had done for her,” Jeanette said.

The woman was ecstatic, so wrapped up in her new Savior that she didn’t care who knew it.  Toy Store for Jesus wants God to use their ministry to bring people to Him, and Jeanette believes that blessing families with Christmas toys is the perfect avenue to reach out to them.

 

Relieving the stress of the Christmas season . . .

The families who come to the toy store come from many places and backgrounds, but all of them are thankful that they can give their children a wonderful Christmas.

Louise remembers one grandmother who was particularly appreciative.  The grandmother didn’t know what Christmas would be like without the toy store.

“She had so many grandchildren, and it really made an impact on her life,” Louise said.

In the midst of the grandmother’s struggle to care for all of her grandchildren, the toy store was able to ease her burden, relieving the stress of the Christmas season and bringing joy to her family.

 

Coats are such a simple thing, a need that many people take for granted.

At Toy Store for Jesus, coats are one more way to minister to the parents who are shopping, providing warmth and comfort for their families.

Margie recognized how great the need for coats is when she worked as a coat hanger at the toy store. She saw that a number of the families could not even afford coats to make the cold bearable, and she enjoyed being able to meet that need.

“People were so happy that we even had their sizes, regardless of how the coat looked,” Margie said. “It struck me how thankful they are for such a simple thing.”

 

No one should be hopeless on Christmas . . .

It’s difficult to be in a situation of losing everything, but no one should be hopeless on Christmas.

The couple was foreign to being in the position of needing help to provide for their family, but this Christmas, Melanie could see that Toy Store for Jesus was just what they needed.  As she shopped with them, Melanie learned that they had moved to North Carolina from New York, and had lost everything after they moved.

“The husband was just so humble and thankful,” Melanie said. “He couldn’t believe that someone would do this for them.”

The couple was able to find the perfect toys for their children, giving them a Christmas when they thought that their situation would mean doing without.

 

“[Toy Store for Jesus] is just such a great ministry;I loved getting to be a part of it.”  Carol

 

“It’s a wonderful way to serve at Christmas. All the people love what they get.”  Elka

 

“The best part of the store, by far, is that people are getting to know the Lord.”  Frank

 

“I always enjoy talking to people, especially when I know their situations and know that we’re helping them.”   Hazel

 

“There really are a lot of needs. I worry about small children getting a good Christmas, so I’m glad the store helps them.”  Joyce

 

“I really enjoy being hands on with the people who shop.  It’s a great way to get to know them and hear about their lives.”  Karen