CHESTER — Volunteers at Hearts and Hands Thrift Store in Chester have been helping families in need at Christmas for over 20 years.
The thrift store is part of the Bethel Worship Center ministry, and provided Christmas gifts for over 150 children in 61 families in their recent toy giveaway.
Jill Holter began the program as a way of anonymously providing Christmas gifts to children who might otherwise not receive any. Sales from the thrift store and contributions by Church members fund the project.
For the past three years, Janice Middleton has been running the store with Holter. They, along with other volunteers, clean, refurbish, and package donated toys and games before displaying them for purchase in the front room of the store. Clothing and household items are in two additional rooms.
“We work very hard to make sure the toys are clean and the pieces are together,” Middleton said. “If there are parts missing, we put that information on the bag the toy is in. We want people to know what they are purchasing.”
Families in Meigs County and the Coolville area in need of assistance are asked to bring a wish list to the store in October. Church members are given the wish list and $50 to shop. The items are brought back to the store and placed in bags or boxes with the name of the recipient.
During pickup day, recipients can also shop at the store and purchase additional items at low cost.
Middleton said, “Many Church members purchase the gifts using their own money, allowing the store to spend the $50 on another child. Our members are so generous.”
Holter agreed, and said that raising money is a year round project, and they can never know in advance how many requests will be received.
“We don’t ask questions of our applicants, we trust that they are sincere when they ask for help, we don’t turn anyone away,” Middleton said.
Both she and Holter said the toy giveaway allows parents to distribute the gifts according to their own tradition, whether from themselves or Santa.
“We want parents to be able to provide a Christmas for their children in the way they want to, that’s why we let the parents pick them up unwrapped, we don’t want them to be from us, that’s not the purpose of our efforts.”
With the last of the gifts picked up and a store full of shoppers, Holter and Middleton said that getting ready for next year had already begun.
Hearts & Hands Thrift Store is located on the second floor of the Chester Community Center Building (former Chester Elementary). The hours are: Thursdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to noon. The Thrift Store welcomes drop offs of gently used toys, clothing, and household goods on Tuesdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. only.