Editor's note: This article originally ran in December 2009 in The Dispatch, the regional newspaper for Davidson County, North Carolina. It is reprinted here as a reminder of the strategic ministry our associations have in galvanizing their partner churches to reach their communities with the Gospel. May this account serve as a reminder of the opportunity to partner with other churches in your association to demonstrate the Lord's love and proclaim the Good News of Christ to those in need throughout your association.
A group of churches in Davidson County, North Carolina, have again banded together to raise money and purchase gifts for those less fortunate this Christmas.
The Liberty Baptist Association Toy Store is a program much like the community's Empty Stocking Fund, where the Southern Baptist churches in Davidson County raise cash and provide unwrapped gifts for hundreds of children and families in the area.
Karen Shaffer, along with the help of her two daughters, Kelly and Katie, and Evva Spurgeon, the secretary of the Liberty Baptist Association office, help organize and plan the program to benefit those who may need a little assistance in providing their family a Christmas. Karen Shaffer has been the chairwoman of the program for the past seven years, but it has been part of the community for several more.
The association sends out letters each year to encourage those who can donate to give to a worthy cause. A lot of men's and women's groups at churches take up offerings as an extra way to help out others during the Christmas season.
"A lot of people have come last-minute," Shaffer said. "We got a lot of donations this week."
Shaffer, whose husband, David, is the associate pastor at Coggins Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington, said the church holds an annual Thanksgiving dinner each year with proceeds going to the Toy Store program.
Last year and this year have seen a big rise in the number of people applying to the Toy Store. In 2007, the churches were able to help out about 250 children, but in 2008, that number jumped to 453 children (up to 14 years old) from 175 different families, nearly double from the year before. Liberty received 370 applications this year and had to stop taking them November 20, though Shaffer said they may be able to still help out some families who come to them late.
Those parents who have applied for help at the Toy Store will begin picking up their toys Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Shaffer said it's a pretty organized process with three parents scheduled every ten minutes throughout the day. The last two weeks before the pick-up period, Shaffer and her two daughters set aside time to do nothing but shop for and wrap gifts for the children.
But the association is also able to use the time with parents as a ministry. When they come in, they speak with a volunteer who asks the parent if they are in a church home, if they would be interested in joining a church family, or if there is anything the volunteers can pray about for them. During these discussions, Shaffer and other volunteers have heard more than their share of down-and-out and tragic stories of how people ended up where they were.
"Especially in this economy, the way it's been now for the last few years … there have been a few people that we take care of. Some people have had just catastrophic medical conditions and medical bills that can just consume you," she said. "But there have also been some people who were making a lot of money that are here as first-timers."
Shaffer and others said they're just as blessed to be part of the ministry as those who they're helping.
"That's the hope. All we do is our part, what we're asked to," she said.