FirstLife Blog

Small Numbers, Big Impact: First Baptist Christmas Shop

Posted by Rachel Bell on


Our first annual Christmas Shop was yesterday, and it was a great experience. Thirty First Baptist volunteers served 13 families for a total of 31 children. We hope to build lasting relationships with some of these families as a result of the Shop.

As you may know, this endeavor took the place of Christmas programs like Christmas Brunch and Angel Tree shopping, and we’re so glad we made the switch. We’re thankful for the impact these other programs have had on our community over the years. The Christmas Shop, while not as large as the previous endeavors, will have a large impact on the people involved. We are intentionally choosing quality over quantity.

“It was well worth it, and just could not have gone any better,” said Susan Tatum who planned the event with Arthur Clayton. “God just took it and he knew exactly the numbers that needed to be here and who needed to be here. We were just wanting to be open and available and obedient. We tried to make this a positive experience from beginning to end.”

A positive experience it was. Parents and Grandparents of South Knox Elementary School children were able to sign up for the program upon their commitment to complete 6 hours of volunteer service in their community. First Baptist volunteers set up and participated in different opportunities at SKES with the guardians including working in the afterschool program, helping in the Vegetable or Butterfly Gardens, participating in the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), or teaching a class or workshop. Participants could also volunteer with Second Harvest Food Bank or get their own community service approved.

These volunteer hours allowed us to get to know the families ahead of time, as many of them brought their children along to serve with them. The hours also ensured that the families got to work for their children’s Christmas gifts, just as they would have had they been paying with money. We wanted to empower them to provide for their children not through a handout, but a hand up.

“You know, the community deserves things to be as equal for them as anyone else,” says Arthur Clayton. “So, that’s what I thought was really cool about the program itself.”

The Shop was designed to function like a personal shopping experience, where grandparents or parents could – at their own pace – progress through a series of rooms divided by age group and gift size. For each child, the guardians were able to pick out three stocking stuffers, a small, medium, and large gift, as well as a handmade hat and scarf from our Knots of Love ministry, an age-appropriate Bible, a gift basket, resources on First Baptist, and wrapping paper for the lot. Each family unit was assigned a Personal Shopping Assistant, and each gift station was assigned as volunteers to make the process run smoothly.

Myra Nunley, who has volunteered with us for Angel Tree in previous years, worked this year as one of the Personal Shopping Assistants. This meant she was paired with different families and walked them from gift room to gift room. She talked with the families to learn about their children’s likes and dislikes and was then able to guide them in choosing gifts. All of the Personal Shopping Assistants connected with their families, many of which received hugs and tears at the end of their shopping session. Myra says in comparison to Angel Tree, where preselected gifts are given out to clients with little-to-no personal interaction, the Christmas Shop was “a thousand times better.”

Many of the families who participated in the Shop, are new to us. A few, however, already have longstanding relationships with First Baptist, and we hope to keep growing those friendships over time.

Shawnda Goines, whose youngest of five children attends South Knox Elementary and is a little in our KidsHope program, was born in Chicago and never experienced this kind of community interaction growing up.

“This is actually a blessing,” she said. “The generosity First Baptist and South Knox have for the community itself is a big difference for me. A lot of people don’t realize that the other big cities don’t even offer the things you guys provide. It’s a blessing for the unfortunate. So, I’m really thankful you guys come together to do that.”

Shawnda’s daughter, RaShya, who her mother describes as “9 going on 39” is Betsy Pickle’s little. Betsy and RaShya have been together for the last three years and are a perfect match, according to Shawnda. When Betsy broke her ankle in November and wasn’t able to visit her little at school, Shawnda and RaShya went to visit her at home.

Carolyn Garner, whose story you can check out here, is the grandmother of four children who have been involved in our KidsHope Program, Kids Camp, Youth Group, Thanksgiving Baskets, and now the Christmas Shop. She and her grandchildren enjoyed working in the SKES garden for their volunteer hours. She was thrilled to be able to provide Christmas for all her grandchildren and has loved getting to know First Baptist over the last few years.

Brittney Rollins, who used to be part of our Food Co-Op and whose children attend SKES, got connected to the Christmas Shop through Jim Plemmons. She said Jim knew the struggle she was having making ends meet and told her about the opportunity. Brittney is about to finish her degree and is in the middle of completing the internship she needs to graduate. She also regularly volunteers with her church, as well as in the Knox County jail.

“I work 40 hours a week, but because it’s an internship, I don’t get paid,” she said. “With school and testing, student teaching, portfolios, and state boards, there’s not much time. And, when you add the volunteer service, church, and the kids, I can’t go get another job. So this Christmas Shop is major for us.”

These are the kind of personal interactions and budding relationships we are cultivating through our partnership with South Knox and programs like the Shop, and these wouldn’t be a success with the volunteers.

The volunteers really were the key ingredient. Those like Wanda Edmondson and Bette Austin checked families in and chatted with them as they waited to begin. Beth Sexton, Missy Clayton, Judy Boswell and others manned gift stations and ushered in families with warmth and grace so appropriate for the Christmas Season. Susan Browder greeted each person with a full-faced smile while sharing First Baptist ministries and resources with them. Betty Vawter and Carolyn White helped them find the perfect knit. Teré Atwater embraced each person with her loving spirit and kind words. Arlene Malcolm sat down with each family, earnestly praying for their needs. Don Rairdon, Gary Nunley, Andy Edmondson and others helped carry and load all their gifts. Still more helped in all of these mentioned areas, as well as provided snacks or helped with set up or break down.

There was just something the volunteers added that is difficult to pinpoint. The atmosphere was so positive. Everyone, including the participating families, was happy and kind and upbeat. Life stories were exchanged, hurts were prayed for, laughter was shared. It didn’t feel like charity. It felt like family.

Susan Tatum speculated everything worked so well because each person was serving where they were passionate.

“Everyone did their job very well,” she said. “And that comes from putting people where their passion and gifts are. Certain people needed to be in that prayer room. And people joke about shopping being a spiritual gift, but the people who enjoy that are the ones that needed to be doing it. It’s all about putting people where they can feel used and be successful.”

The Christmas Shop did just that, and not just for the volunteers but also for the participating families. It encouraged them to work for their gifts and gave them avenues to choose from. They were able to help their community and provide for their children. We are thankful for the opportunity we have to touch our community and the community’s willingness to pass on those acts of kindness.

We are thankful for passion and gifts and talents. In fact, we have a place for yours, as well. Check out our service opportunities page or contact Arthur Clayton at to get connected today!




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