Christmas in Walnut: Volunteers ready for annual charity event this weekend

By: Nathan Hoy

As many of the people in Cedar Falls prepare for Christmas, parents focus on buying gifts for the their kids and friends make it a priority to buy gifts for their friends. The reality is that certain families do not have the luxury of having the ability to afford gifts for their loved ones.

A few people back in 2010 took notice to this and felt the urge to do something about it. For the last five years, Laura Hoy and Orchard Hill Church have been putting something on in the Walnut neighborhood in Waterloo called “Christmas in Walnut.”

They had an idea to come up with some kind of Christmas store that would sell toys for a very cheap price to people who couldn’t usually afford to buy their families any gifts.

They came up with a list of toys and sent it out all over the Cedar Valley. The goal was to receive about 2,500 new toys. All toys had to be brand new and between the prices of $10 and $20. Youth ministries like CHAOS, Bighouse and BASIC jumped all over the idea of fundraising toys.

Christmas in Walnut operates a little differently when it comes to giving. “We hope that one day, there is so much development going on with individuals and in community that parents will begin to say, ‘I don’t need a ticket this year to the Christmas store.’ That’s the dream,” Director of Link CCD (Christian Community Development) Laura Hoy said.  “Until that happens, though, we believe parents should have the opportunity to shop for their own children and pay something for the gifts. We sell gifts for $2 and $5 … about 75 percent off retail price.”

Hoy said having the parents still pay a small price for the gifts is because she believes that when something is just handed to someone, all dignity is lost.

“In Christmas in Walnut, even though it’s just a small price, the parents come to the Boys and Girls Club and pay for the toy they purchased for their family. It’s the toy they bought for their loved ones, not the toy that was given to them so they could give it to their loved ones,” Hoy said.

All the toys are donated to the event. Families, churches and individuals go out and pay for the toys that will then be sold on the actual day. Since the toys are donated, the event does receive a little bit of money. The money taken in at the Christmas Store goes back into the neighborhood school and the Boys & Girls Club to help further youth development initiatives.

On the morning of the event this Saturday, Dec. 12, there will be a community breakfast that everyone is welcome to. Alongside the Christmas store where people shop for Christmas gifts, organizers will also have a craft workshop in the same building where kids can make and wrap gifts for their family members.

Hoy said volunteers are needed each year. Volunteers can work as personal shoppers where they go one on one with a customer, learn what they are specifically shopping for and point out what the store has to offer. They are also needed for the craft workshop to help kids with the making of crafts and to help wrap certain gifts for their family members. People will also be needed to wrap gifts, check people out and to pray with certain people.

Senior Annebeth Ahrenholz volunteered last year and plans to again this year. “It was a really great experience giving back and seeing how many families were impacted and how happy that made them. It opened my eyes to things I’m not used to seeing and made me realize how blessed I am and how thankful I am for that,” Ahrenholz said.

Christmas in Walnut focuses on bringing the community together and strengthening relationships. “We believe Christmas in Walnut is just one way that we hope to continue to link arms to encourage one another and strengthen a neighborhood,” Hoy said.

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