Church gives needy families toys – and dignity

See how City Bible Church volunteers take the stigma of out of receiving gifts, for the recipients of the 10,000 toys they give away …

The sound of a cappella Christmas carolers welcomes parents of kids who can’t afford to buy gifts to this City Bible Church party on Rocky Butte in outer East Portland called “Live Love Christmas”.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

The staff and members at City Bible Church have long been known for helping the community through several different outreach programs.

During the Christmas season, they put on perhaps their most extensive event – “Live Love Christmas” – at all four of their campuses, including the one on Rocky Butte.

Guests invited to participate are treated to snacks and beverages, prepared and served by volunteers.

“About a decade ago, my dream was to help find a way to bring the church to the community and the community to the church, around Christmas time,” said Children’s Pastor and Outreach Coordinator Melissa Vogel.

Volunteers were putting the finishing touches for their “Live Love Christmas” party, at which they give thousands new toys to parents who otherwise couldn’t afford to buy them.

“Over the past decade, this has proven to be a good way to do it,” Vogel told East Portland News as their guests were ushered into the iconic, twin-domed facility.

PPB East Precinct Captain Robert King, City Bible Church Children’s Pastor and Outreach Coordinator Melissa Vogel, East Precinct Sergeant Timothy Sessions, and Pastor Marc Estes gather for a photo, just before the doors open.

“This is unique, in the sense that we’re trying to provide more than just gifts for kids,” said Senior Pastor Marc Estes. “The idea is to provide an uplifting experience for the parents, in which they can receive toys they’ll give as gifts to their children, and do it with dignity.”

Experience showed the church’s volunteers that, while recipients were appreciative of the effort, merely shoving a few toys into the hands of the parents left the recipients with feelings of embarrassment and shame. “And the kids didn’t get the gifts they really wanted, either,” Estes commented.

Guests are given the opportunity to browse among tables of toys, sorted by age groupings.

As their party has grown and evolved, the church came up with a way to help out the parents, while allowing them to keep their dignity, he added.

“With the help of social service agencies and organizations, we invite parents to this – where they come in and ‘go shopping’ for their kids, select brand-new, age-appropriate toys, have them gift wrapped, while enjoying some hospitality with hot cocoa and treats, and listening to caroling,” smiled Estes.

The toy giveaway isn’t exclusively a church-based event, the pastor said. “This is a community-based event that brings in volunteers from major retail stores, and as many as forty Portland Police Bureau (PPB) officers who serve as a ‘shopping concierges’, helping parents find the most desired toys.”

Getting ready to help clients “shop” for toys, and help wrap packages, are these officers and the command staff of PPB’s East Precinct.

PPB East Precinct Captain Robert King was one of the many law enforcement officers at the outer East Portland event. He commented, “This is about the real spirit of Christmas.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to connect with Portland families; there’s nothing sweeter than helping a child get desired gifts,” King added. “It’s a pleasure for us to volunteer with this church, that is so incredibly generous in the community, especially for families who really need it.”

The toys are purchased or provided by donors such as Pamela and Rick Crandall who gave $5,000 this year, members of their churches’ congregations, and are supplemented by the toy drives of the KGW-TV-8 and KPTV-Fox-12-Oregon television stations, who add a truckload of toys to the effort.

PPB Officer Michele Borer helps guest Alexus Patrick “shop” for toys.

“This is just wonderful,” exclaimed client Alexus Patrick, as she picked out toys for her kids with the help of a police officer. “I really like being able to ‘shop’ for toys; I can get what I know that they’ll actually enjoy and play with.

“I’m so thankful.” Patrick added. “Our kids are going to be so excited.”

PPB Officer Billard and Officer Miller wrap toys.

At the church’s Rocky Butte campus, some 250 volunteers, working three shifts throughout the day, help make the event possible, Estes pointed out.

“Programs like these helps us fulfill the mission of our church which is, in six simple words: ‘Live like Jesus, Share His Love’.

“We believe that our faith is much more than a belief – it’s a behavior,” Estes said. “Everything we do is about living life beyond ourselves. Instead of doing something inside the walls of the church, we exist for what’s outside of our walls.

“We say that church was never intended to be a ‘hospital for hypocrites’, but instead, the ‘headquarters for heroes’,” the pastor said with a smile.

More than 2,000 outer East Portland kids will have a more joyful Christmas, thanks to the “Live Love Christmas” event.

Seeing parents enjoying hospitality of the season, Pastor Vogel looked pleased, and commented, “When I see how people’s lives are positively impacted or uplifted, it’s truly my Christmas dream come true.”

Find out more about all of the programs offered at City Bible Church by visiting their official website: CLICK HERE.

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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