Rows of brightly colored Christ-mas packages and shiny new bicycles lined First Baptist Church of North Augusta’s gym floor Saturday morning. Louvenia Mathews and other volunteers greeted clients and handed out bags containing chicken, potatoes, peas, dressing, cranberry sauce, and macaroni and cheese.
This year, 459 children and 215 families whose holidays might have been bleak will have Santa visit their houses and enjoy Christmas meals because of the Christmas Store.
Mathews, who serves as the organization’s director, said the process starts in October with seeking applicants, followed by evaluations by the Christmas Store committee.
“We talk back and forth on the phone with each other and determine which applicants we can service,” she said. “It’s a rather involved process.”
Mathews’ daughter-in-law, Lori Mathews, described the process.
“We take applications, including proof of income, the first and second weekends in October,” she said. “We go by the South Carolina poverty guidelines. Parents also submit a list with the children’s ages, sizes, gender and race (with race being used primarily for buying baby dolls). They also include a wish list for each child, with up to three items. We tell the sponsors to pick from the list or get what they want.”
Distribution is done about a week before Christmas. She said over the years they have built a pretty good sponsor base.
“We have churches, individuals and some businesses who sponsor a child, a family, or more than one child or family,” she said. “Many churches team up, and Sunday school classes help. They try to get what the kids want and like for Christmas – what families would like to and can’t afford to buy. The sponsors wrap the gifts and put the children’s numbers on the bags and bring them to the distribution point. The mothers are usually the ones who picks them up.”
Golden Harvest Food Bank donates the food for the families.
Chasiti Johnson has been among those on the receiving end.
“I’m a single mom who works and due to income, I had to reach out to an agency,” she said. “It was either pay the light bill or get things for my daughter for Christmas. It really helped me a lot.
‘‘They help a lot of people in the CSRA. There’s no limitation on where they live.”
In return, she has started what she calls “Weekends of Fun” for low-income families or ones who need childcare on weekends.
The older Mathews, who has been with the organization since its beginning in 1979, said over the years she has seen quite a few people who are so appreciative of the help they receive that they come back as volunteers or they sponsor a child.
“It (the organization) was originally part of the North Augusta Ministries,” she said. “It eventually outgrew the ministry, and my volunteers and I took over in 2002. It has grown every year in sponsors, and every year in clients (except for this year when the number was slightly down due to some having missed the application date).”
This year, they still have 42 children to find sponsors for, she said. But she feels sure that by Christmas Eve they will have found those sponsors and all the children will be taken care of.
To become a sponsor, contact Louvenia at (803) 474-3544 or Lori at (803) 270-8960.