For a decade I had been engaged in urban ministry but had commuted daily from the suburbs. For several of those years, I had coordinated an adopt-a-family program at Christmas time. Urban families who had no money to buy gifts for their children were matched up with suburban families who had caring hearts and a surplus of material things. Our staff would provide the names, ages and sizes of the children and the addresses of the families. On Christmas Eve day, the suburban families would deliver the gifts to their adopted family in the city. The spirit of the season as it was shared in this very personal and tangible way would enrich the lives of both poor and affluent families in unique ways. It was an idea that had great appeal and it gained momentum each year.
But the year I moved into the city, the first year I sat in living rooms with needy neighbors when the gift-bearing families arrived, I observed something I had never seen before. The children, of course, were all excited at the sight of all the colorfully wrapped presents. The mothers were gracious to their beneficiaries but seemed, to me at least, to be a bit reserved. If there was a father in the home, he simply vanished. At first sight of the gift-bearers, he disappeared out the back door. It dawned on me that something other than joyful Christmas sharing was happening here. Although the children were ecstatic, the recipient parents were struggling with a severe loss of pride. In their own homes, their impotence as providers was exposed before their children. The mothers would endure this indignity for the sake of their children, but it was often more than the fathers could take. Their failure as providers was laid bare. It was destroying what shreds of pride they were managing to hold on to.
It was obvious that this charity system had to change. The following Christmas, as caring people began to call in for their adopted city family, they were asked if they would be willing to give an extra gift this year. Would they give the gift of dignity to the dads? Instead of delivering the gifts directly to their adopted family, they were asked to bring them unwrapped to the Family Store where a Christmas toy shop would be set up.
A small price would be placed on each toy or article of clothing-somewhere between a garage sale and a wholesale price-and parents from the community would be invited in to Christmas shop. Those that had no money could work at the store to earn what they needed to purchase gifts for their family, since cash flow would be generated through the sale of donations.
Then on Christmas morning, parents in the city would experience the same joy as those in the suburbs: watching their children open the gifts they secured for them from the efforts of their own hands. We renamed the Adopt-a-Family program and called it Pride for Parents.
It was a quantum leap, selling donated gifts rather than the very personal and warm-feeling home-delivery method. But when we explained to donors what was happening to the dignity of their recipients, they could understand. They understood, too, that the extra gift that they were being called upon to give was that rush of joy they experienced at seeing the faces of children light up when the presents arrived. The Pride for Parents idea caught on and continues to grow each year. Toys are collected by churches, at office parties, by sponsoring corporations and by individual families who want their children to learn the importance of giving to others, especially those in need. And urban families by the hundreds stream into the Family Store excited to find wonderful â€œbargains.â€ Some are put to work stocking shelves, unloading vans and sweeping up. Others put gifts in lay-away, paying a small amount each week until the full purchase price has been paid. The proceeds from the sale of donated toys is then used to hire and train unemployed parents throughout the year who will in time secure permanent, full-time employment that is sufficient to support their families. Thus the gifts at Christmas not only bring great joy during the holiday season but keep on giving all year long.
That first Pride for Parents sale was 26 years ago, and it still continues today. If you would like to participate in the sale by donating toys and gifts, organizing a toy and gift drive, sponsoring the program, and/or volunteering, please use the contact information below. We would love for you to give two extra gifts this Christmas season: the gift of dignity and the gift of jobs for our neighbors in South Atlanta.