Shopping for others is one of the most rewarding parts of the holiday season — but what do you do when you can't afford to buy gifts?
More than 800 central Oklahoma families this month will turn to Christmas Connection, an Oklahoma City nonprofit that offers a unique shopping experience. You see, everything in the Christmas Connection store is free.
“It's very clean, very well-organized,” said Shelley Dutton, executive director. “Everything is sized and ordered. In fact, we just had the floors polished, so they're sparkling clean. It's not like a thrift shop at all. It looks like a department store, like a smaller Target.”
Like other stores, Christmas Connection, 5728 S May Ave., has separate departments — clothes, decorations, toys, home decor, etc. Shelves are filled with new and gently used products, including personal care items that food stamps won't cover.
Volunteers help customers navigate the store and find the items they need the most.
Limits are placed on the number of items each shopper can select. The limits are based on the size of the store's inventory; right now, for example, the store has roughly 1,800 women's blouses, so customers can take as many as they need. Toothpaste, however, is limited to two tubes per person.
Shoppers are referred to Christmas Connection by a series of partner agencies and schools. The charity's Christmas Shopping Days program began Thursday and will continue through Dec. 10.
“We really want to give kids 14 and under at least a new coat and a new toy,” Dutton said. “More than that if we can.”
Although everything is free, Dutton said, many shoppers donate $1 per family member.
“It lets them feel as though they're giving something back,” she said. “That goes toward our goal of making sure everyone is treated with dignity and respect. Some of these families are in a real financial bind, and even paying $1 per person is more than they can really afford, but they do it because they appreciate what we're providing and want to help the next person down the line.”
This season's customer list already is set; no new customers are being accepted.
But holiday shopping isn't the only service Christmas Connection provides. Referrals are accepted throughout the year.
In 1981, Christmas Connection opened as a seasonal charity, and Christmas Shopping Days remains its signature program. The store is open year-round now, and programs are available to provide students with school uniforms, help those who have lost homes due to fires and natural disasters, and assist the elderly with basic needs.
General shopping days are held to provide low-income families with clothing, furniture, household items and more.
“It's kind of like Christmas all the time here,” Dutton said. “It's a great place to work.”
How to help
It's not too late to contribute to Christmas Connection's Christmas Shopping Days.