Volunteers wanted to help with Christmas giving event

Mercury Bowen, Entertainment Reporter

The Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism will need volunteers to help One Stop Community Christmas provide new household items for more than 945 families Saturday at Lakeland College.

Beth Gillespie, the interim director of civic engagement, said the purpose of One Stop Community Christmas is to make December brighter for entire families.

“(The event is) not just focused on putting gifts under the tree for kids,” Gillespie said.

Crystal Brown, the assistant director of civic engagement, said the event will provide items food stamps do not buy, such as toiletries and cleaning supplies.

“Every family also gets a meal basket based on their household size,” Brown said. “A family of four is walking away with about $250 worth of items to help their family.”

The event also serves families across seven counties, Gillespie said.

“We know that fifty percent of the families that we serve come from Coles County,” Gillespie said. “They are our neighbors, our friends, people that we interact with all the time.”

The event began eight years ago, when the leadership for several community-focused programs united to form One Stop Community Christmas.

“Over the last eight years we’ve served over 13,000 kids,” Gillespie said. “This year we have 2,280 kids that are a part of that 945 families.”

Brown said those wishing to volunteer and see the event in action are encouraged to do so.

“We are definitely still taking volunteers to work one of the tables and help give out those items,” Brown said. “Our most critical need is being a personal shopper, walking around with the families to each of those tables and making sure they get the right things based on what their household size is.”

Gillespie said the reason each family will have a personal shopper is because the process could be overwhelming.

“It just is a lot happening,” Gillespie said. “They’re getting so much stuff, so it can just be really overwhelming. Our personal shoppers are there to help be that cheerful, chatty, friendly face.”

Gillespie said the biggest need for personal shoppers will be between noon and 6 p.m.

“It takes over 800 volunteers to make One Stop happen,” Gillespie said. “We’ll start serving families at 7:30 (a.m.) on Saturday morning and the last wave of families will come through at 5:30 (p.m.).”

Volunteers can choose to be at the event all-day or just for two hours.

“That’s kind of the challenge we give our students is to volunteer two hours a month to work toward the greater goal,” Gillespie said. “Like I spent a lot of time this weekend binge-watching things on Netflix. Everybody has two hours they can give in a month. It’s just about making doing something for somebody else a priority.”

Brown said her favorite part of the event is seeing things come full circle.

“A lot of our students whether it’s from Jumpstart service day or a student organization on campus or family weekend service day have made the fleece tie blankets through our office,” Brown said. “That is one of the tables that is happening at One Stop, so all those blankets they’ve helped us make, they can now see where it’s going and the impact it’s helping make in our communities.”

Mercury Bowen can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].