The Refuge Community Christmas will be in its fourth year this year, and its staff members and volunteers are expecting a crowd.
Kelli Kyle, vice president and director of community involvement at The Refuge, said 572 children have been registered for the event this year — more than the organization has ever had.
The event allows parents who might not be able to provide Christmas gifts for their children the chance to choose gifts at no charge to them.
The gym at the Blythe Avenue Family Support Center — where The Refuge has its office — will be lined with table after table of gifts on Dec. 21, each table sorted by gifts types and suggested age groups.
Parents register ahead of time, and each will be assigned a time to shop on the day of the event. Thirty-two shoppers are allowed to browse during each 30-minute time slot. Each shopper can choose two large gifts and one small gift per child.
“It can be from Mom and Dad or from Santa — whatever the family’s traditions are,” Kyle said.
Before they ever make it to the gym, they can drop off their children in another part of the building for activities like crafts and games.
While the children might think they are just enjoying time with other kids, their families are really picking out presents.
Before the children are picked up, volunteers also help parents wrap the gifts so the children do not see what their parents have been busy doing. If the families have cars, volunteers can even help load the gifts before the children see.
“For the most part, the kids don’t know it came from The Refuge,” Kyle said. “That’s what we want.”
The Refuge offers a variety of programs throughout the year like job skills classes through its Access 180 program, which Kyle said helps families learn to be self-sufficient.
She said their Christmas event follows the same line of thought, as parents are going through the physical act of browsing for gifts rather than having a wrapped gift for their child handed to them.
“It brings dignity to the parents … and a sense of joy,” Kyle said.
The “joy” comes from them being able to select gifts for their children without them knowing the origins of the gifts and to actually be able to surprise them on Christmas morning.
Many families the organization serves are living on low incomes, she added. While some families may have no problem paying for necessities like food and shelter, “extras” like Christmas gifts may fall by the wayside.
“As a parent myself, I understand that they want to provide gifts for their children,” Kyle said. “Since Christmas is supposed to be about giving anyway, it allows them to do that.”
However, with a record number of participants this year, the organization is also in need of a record number of gifts to give away. In addition, the organization has registered children and teens ranging in age from infants to 17-year-olds, making providing enough gifts challenging at times.
Kyle said The Refuge has introduced something new this year to help pay for the event.
People can participate in the new “Fill A Child’s Heart” program by visiting a participating business or organization and buying a paper heart for $10. Each heart bears the name of a child registered for the event, and those who purchase the hearts are said to have sponsored that child.
The hearts can be bought at Fulin's Asian Cuisine, Curves of Cleveland, ChristWay Community Church, First State Finance, Durkee Road Church of God of Prophecy, T.J. Maxx, First Baptist Church, First Street Diner, The Spot, Grace Community Church, Las Margaritas, Montessori Kinder, White Oak Baptist, South Cleveland Church of God or Lakeview Church of God.
Donations can also be made online, and The Refuge is also accepting donations of brand new toys as well.
Volunteers are also needed. Kyle said it takes between 60 and 70 volunteers to let the event succeed each year.
For more information about the event, visit www.therefugecommunity.org or call 584-5211.