Special ‘store’ helps brighten Christmas for needy

Discover how “Human Solutions” takes the humiliation out of getting hand-outs of clothing for hundreds of families, here in outer East Portland …

Volunteer, and “Human Solutions” Ambassador, Andrea Pena serves as a “personal Shopper” for a client during the 2010 Holiday Store.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
It’s bad enough to be struggling through difficult economic times. But, as the Holiday season approaches, many families dread Christmas morning, having few if any gifts for their kids to open.

But, for the past eleven years, non-profit “Human Solutions” has held a special event – they call it the “Holiday Store” – to benefit families struggling with poverty and homelessness.

This year, the “store” was set up in the Mill Park Neighborhood, in the multipurpose room at Gethsemane Lutheran Church, at 11560 SE Market Street on December 9.

Ambassador Diane Sherwin, the volunteer organizer, says this event turns the potentially humiliating situation of taking charity into a joyful experience.

“We call it a ‘store’,” explained the organizer, Diane Sherwin, a Human Solutions Ambassador, “because our clients actually get to pick out their own items of clothing and toys. We think it’s more dignified if a parent can make their decision about what they’re getting for their family or their children; and, they know their sizes.”

Families apply for consideration in early November Sherwin explained. Those meeting the criteria are matched with a “personal shopper” who assists the parent , and ensures that the parent is able to select toys and clothing for each of the children in the family as well as a household item for the family.

“This program is important,” Sherwin told us, “because ‘Human Solutions’ is involved in helping families become self-sufficient. Many of our clients are the working poor; they are working two and three jobs per family, but they’re not making a living wage. These items they get hear make their lives easier, and help their children.”

Just like at a department store, merchandise is arranged on tables by size and age appropriateness, making it easy for client to get just the “right” gift for their family members.

The Holiday Store featured dozens of tables, laden with all kinds of clothing and toys. Since last year’s events, volunteers have busy knitting mittens, hats, and scarf sets, and making stockings to be filled.

“Volunteers also hold donation drives at their businesses, hold undraising for toys, and set aside money to take advantage of sales,” pointed out the organization’s Executive Director, Jean DeMaster. “Many churches and schools have been gathering gifts for months to share with children who would not otherwise have something special for the Holidays.”

Organizing and displaying all of this new, good-quality merchandise takes a lot of effort, Sherwin pointed out. “At least 70 volunteers work on this project. And we sure appreciate their help. We are serving 312 families this year – and possibly a few extra that come from Daybreak Shelter and the Eastminster Warming Center.”

They’re serving 50% more families this year than in 2009, DeMaster added. “Because of the economic recession and the number of unemployed or underemployed families in the area, the demand has increased.”

Ambassadors Carol Kestersson and “Human Solutions” board member Catherine Moyer help “check out” clients’ merchandise – and even bag their gifts for them.

Sherwin said this is her eleventh year working with the Holiday Store program. “We’ve held it at the David Douglas Schools’ warehouse building, at the Montavilla Baptist Church – and even in a cold garage one year. We’re really happy to be here at this church.”

Why she – and so many others – volunteer is simple, Sherman said. “This special program helps struggling families so much; and we do it in a way that replaces humiliation with joy; and desperation with hope.”

To learn more about Human Solutions, see their website: CLICK HERE to open their homepage.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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