On December 14, Giftmarts at four elementary schools in East Aurora and Joliet blessed the 3,500 people who attended with affordable toys, and a warm, festive shopping experience that included refreshments, entertainment, childcare and free gift-wrapping. Since 2003, Giftmart has been providing the gift of dignity by collecting toys and selling them at a cost of $2 per toy to parents who would not otherwise have been able to purchase presents during the holiday season. Giftmart also paved the way for these communities to provide the gift of education to their children by donating the proceeds back to their schools, resulting in the purchase of much needed library books, computers, musical instruments and other supplies. This year, 13,700 toys were collected, and $16,890 raised through Giftmart sales will be donated back to the seven schools that participate in Giftmart. A total of 1,241 volunteers came together to make Giftmart a success in its 11th year. Since 2003, Giftmart has collected 93,875 toys and raised $126,790 for the schools it serves.
"We are so grateful for the support of 130+ businesses, organizations, schools, civic groups, and churches that donated toys, money, or provided volunteers to make the Giftmarts possible,” said Kirsten Strand, Director of Community 4:12, a ministry of Community Christian Church that operates Giftmart. “The mission of Community 4:12 is 'Uniting People to Restore Communities,' and this event demonstrates what can happen when people unite around a cause."
East Aurora Giftmarts were located at Brady and Bardwell Elementary Schools and also benefitted the families whose children attend Rollins and Beaupre Elementary Schools. Joliet Giftmarts took place at Isaac Singleton and Sator Sanchez Elementary Schools and also benefitted the families whose children attend AO Marshall Elementary School.
Dr. Twila Garza, principal at Bardwell Elementary, had this to say about Giftmart: "My eyes welled with tears as I watched the Giftmart volunteers form a human conveyer belt to unload boxes of toys from the semi-truck, across the parking lot, to the school, up the stairs, and through the gym. These volunteers shivered in the 30-degree weather, jumping from foot to foot and building camaraderie, as they provided a service to our very appreciative Bardwell families. Parents stated they enjoyed the live band, fun activities for their children, and that their gifts were wrapped. All I can say is that our Bardwell community is blessed!"
Toy and monetary donations are critical to the success of the Giftmart program. Donations of new, unwrapped toys for elementary aged children ranging from $6-$20 were collected at the Yellow Box location of Community Christian Church, at Trinity Christian School in Shorewood, and at more than 130 businesses, schools and churches throughout the area.
When parents arrived at Giftmart, they were greeted and enjoyed live entertainment, coffee, hot chocolate and doughnuts while they waited. They were oriented on the Giftmart process in both English and Spanish. Children enjoyed crafts and activities while their parents shopped. After parents finished shopping, free gift-wrapping was available before they were reunited with their children.
Community 4:12, a ministry of Community Christian Church, began the Giftmart in 2003. Since then, the event has multiplied in the Chicago suburbs and has brought many additional churches into the fold of reproducing. This year Orchard Community Church, Judson Memorial Baptist Church, The Village Christian Church, and First Baptist Church of Minooka contributed their time and donations to the success of Giftmart.