WARRENSBURG – The annual Christmas Store, which will be hosted at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in mid-December, is celebrating its 50th anniversary and seeking monetary donations.
Sue Cotrill, the Christmas Store’s chair this year, said the organization is community- and faith-based and helps provide holiday meals to those in need. Cotrill said The Christmas Store works in conjunction with The Food Center, 137 E. Culton St.
Cotrill said food will be given out in the form of vouchers that can be spent at Hy-Vee, 410 E. Young Ave. in Warrensburg. She said eligible persons can sign up at The Food Center by Nov. 18. Cotrill said those who sign up will be given a voucher pick-up date. She said those eligible for a voucher are typically affiliated with The Food Center.
“Most of the people that we sign up are people that are clients of The Food Center and they have already been vetted through the process with Harvesters and the USDA,” Cotrill said. “They have to meet certain economic guidelines. We have a few people who are not clients of The Food Center, but most of the people are clients of The Food Center.”
Cotrill said the Christmas Store provides food to about 400 families on average and organizers expect numbers to climb this year. The Christmas Store has been helping families and individuals during the holidays for 50 years, and according to Jackie Harmon, a previous member of the Warrensburg Christian Social Concerns Committee, it all began in the cramped kitchen in the basement of First Christian Church when it was located on Gay and Holden streets.
The Food Center was located in the church’s basement kitchen. Leslie Petrie, another previous Warrensburg Christian Social Concerns Committee member, said the Food Center had been providing food to those in need since long before the Christmas Store’s inception. However, when The Food Center noticed an influx of visitors during the holidays, they decided to start the Christmas Store. Petrie said ministers from Johnson County churches would send individuals to The Food Center for resources. She said some people would go to multiple ministers who would get them connected to The Food Center, and each time, they would collect another bag of food, which resulted in unequal distribution of goods.
“The problem with that was, one family might get four or five sacks of food from various ministers, and some families might not get anything,” Petrie said.
She said that’s when the Warrensburg Christian Social Concerns Committee was formed. She explained that the committee met monthly and every church involved with The Food Service would send two representatives. Petrie said at those meetings, they discussed ways to distribute food evenly and fairly among people.
“That group met at the Presbyterian church and invited a speaker from Kansas City to come down,” Petrie said. “Their church or organization had a Christmas Store and they told us how they did theirs. Then, our group said, ‘OK, we think we can do this.’ It required getting addresses from everybody to send invitations to people because it was going to be invitation only.”
Petrie said the speaker told them it’s important that people be invited to the Christmas Store and bring their invitation and a dollar on the food distribution day.
“They’d be told ahead of time that they had to bring a dollar because they would then be invested in it,” Petrie said. “If they brought the dollar, they would feel more like they were providing food for their family as opposed to just a handout.”
Petrie said they determined who was eligible to receive an invitation based on information provided by Family Services. Harmon added that sometimes they would also get names from pastors and charities. Petrie said they made sure that one family did not double dip.
“If Catholic charities sent me a list of names of people I was to send invitations to and a minister called with the same name, I would double check and I would say, ‘they’ve already received their invitation,’ and we would not send another one,” Petrie said.
Petrie said, years later, Family Services could no longer, by law, give them information. Harmon said from there, they started gathering a list of names through the Food Center, which had moved from the basement of First Christian Church into its own building by then. Petrie said invitations are handled the same way currently.
Cotrill said the Christmas Store used to publish a menu of food that people could donate. She said they would divide the items into bags depending on family size. People would then show up and collect the appropriate bag. Cotrill said the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Christmas Store to change the format because people could no longer meet up and collect food items.
“We decided to go through a voucher system,” Cotrill continued. “As we moved through that process, we found out that we should have realized that everybody doesn’t eat the same things. With the voucher system, they are able to take their vouchers to Hy-Vee and purchase the items their family would like for their holiday meal.”
Despite how things may have changed over the past 50 years, one thing remains the same: The Christmas Store depends on donations to feed families and individuals in need during the holidays.
Online donations can be made at thefoodcenter.org. Checks made out to the Christmas Store will also be accepted with “Christmas Store 2023” in the memo line. For more information, call 660-624-9015.
Annelia Nixon can be reached at 660-747-8123.