Written by: Savanah Warren, MPPC Mission Coordinator

It’s drizzling as I pull into the parking lot of St. John’s Baptist Church. It’s Saturday night and I’m here to help at the first night of this year’s Jubilee Store. It’s surreal that it’s finally happening. I attended my first Jubilee Store meeting back in April. Eight months later, all of the planning has come together to create this wonderfully unique store. Everything from the location to the type of toys and what kind of food to serve, all of it has been planned using the feedback from Charlotte Family Housing (CFH) families and the goal of creating a joyful, dignified shopping experience. I’m nervous and excited to see how it all comes together. 

As I walk into the building, I say hello to Pedro Perez, CFH’s new Executive Director, who greets me kindly and shows me to the fellowship hall, where this year’s store is being held. I enter the large space and take it all in. On the far side of the room, the hundreds of donated toys are set up on tables and sorted by age group and type of toy. During the last week, MPPC Inventory lead, April Robertson, helped organize and coordinate the pricing of all of MPPC’s donated toys. I see families walking from table to table, thoughtfully considering what to purchase. Shopping assistants led by Michelle Barnes carry the family’s shopping basket and provide a listening ear as they think out loud about what gifts to buy. In the middle of the room is the check-out area, where families stand in line to purchase the gifts. I see our fearless leader, this year’s MPPC Jubilee Store Co-Chair, Christi Farr, as she helps a family carry their gifts to the check-out table. Behind the check -out area is the gift-wrapping area. I don’t know it yet, but I will spend most of my time there this evening, having the privilege of wrapping the gifts each family purchased. Ashton Kilby and Margaret Robinson, wrap gifts with a smile among a plethora of wrapping paper rolls, gift bags, and tissue paper. Then, on the side of the room nearest me, I see the tables where families sit and eat freshly prepared salad and lasagna. Some wait while their gifts are wrapped and others already have their gifts, but stay awhile to chat with those around them. 

This is what those eight months of planning led to.  I look across the room to take it all in.

Then, I see her. She sees me, too. Her name is Ms. Renee* and she is a teacher at my daughter’s daycare center. She’s a client of Charlotte Family Housing. I knew this part of her story, but I still am surprised when I see her waving at me. I walk over to her and chat. She asks about my daughter and I ask about her family. We talk about how we’ll spend the upcoming Christmas season. I hug her and we part ways as I head to the gift wrap station.

As I wrap gifts in brightly colored paper the rest of the night, I reflect on that moment. People often ask me, who does Charlotte Family Housing serve? Who are the families in their program? Seeing Ms. Renee reminds me that the families in the Charlotte Family Housing program are people we see every day. They are the daycare teachers, the nursing aides at the retirement center, and the custodians in the office buildings. Like us, they are hard-working people who want the best for their children. Yet, they’ve had a crisis or difficult circumstances that have led to homelessness. Maybe it was losing a job or missing too much work to care for a sick family member that put them behind on rent which led to the eviction. Maybe it was leaving an abusive relationship that led to having nowhere to stay. Whatever the reason for their circumstance, they sought help and support at Charlotte Family Housing through their shelter and housing programs. Through the ministry of the Jubilee Store we hope to provide one night of support as they shop for their children, receive a warm meal, kind hospitality, and carefully wrapped gifts. It’s a joy and privilege to be a part of this one night that is a small part of their journey. That is the joy of the Jubilee Store. 

*Name was changed for confidentiality