The crowd was big but the prices were small at an event they called "Affordable Christmas" in east San Antonio on Saturday.
Sponsored by the SA Heals nonprofit organization, they said that this is the fifth year that volunteers have given needy parents an opportunity to pick and pay for perfect fit gifts for their kids.
"Everything we do is at about 10 percent of the retail price, so a $30 gift is going to cost them something like $3," said Charles Foltz with SA Heals. “SA Heals is a small nonprofit where we look to start helping people in this community and, as opposed to going a mile wide, we wanted to go a mile deep. And so in order to do that, we focused all of our resources on the local elementary school and in the neighborhood.”
The event is by invitation only and limited to the East Meadows area, where a collaborative effort to rebuild the old Wheatley Courts neighborhood is well underway.
"We're not just giving a hand out. We're giving a hand up," Foltz said.
Donors provide the gifts and volunteer elves help by sorting the bounty and then helping shoppers locate exactly what they need. Everyone invited is given a special time to arrive so that shoppers have individualized attention and plenty of time to make good choices. Organizers are careful to restock the shelves as the more popular items are chosen.
“They come in the door, they get a personal shopper that will take them around, show them stuff. If they have babies versus middle school kids, boys versus girls. And then they're able to buy two gifts per child,” Flotz explained.
Foltz also said that the affordable gift project is one of many outreach efforts by the group to grow a better neighborhood.
“Our hope is that, over a 20-year period, we can break the cycle that a lot of them experience in poverty, abuse, and get them to have opportunities,” Foltz said.
Foltz noted that the effort is paying off already, as neighbors are learning that they can rely on one another and help one another in good and hard times. Foltz said that many of the people who come to the organization for help are, in fact, motivated single mothers who are trying to do right for the children.
“There's hard-working people that are here. And if you just give them a little support, a little bit of opportunity, they're going to take it and make the most of it,” Foltz said.
As a faith-based organization, Foltz said that the volunteers serve God by serving their neighbors.
“Everything that we do is really about the gift that we were given from God, that he helped restore us and we're all in need. We all need help,” Foltz said. “We're just out here as best we can to love God and to love our neighbor. And we try to really just keep it that simple.”