CORE and Hollister School District’s Holiday Store Spreads Christmas Cheer
In December CORE and Hollister School District shared the joy of Christmas by holding a holiday giveaway for families in need. Hundreds of people had the opportunity to shop – for no charge – in a “Holiday Store” specially created at the school district and stocked with thousands of retail goods supplied by CORE. The week-long event was an unmatched success. Participants described their experiences with glowing superlatives. The Holiday Store was the brainchild of CORE’s CEO Cary McKee.
The driving force of innovation is need. In mid-October McKee found himself looking out the window of his office at CORE’s headquarters pondering a problem created by the pandemic. It wasn’t related to money or clients – McKee already had made moves earlier in the year that assured the welfare of both program and clients. Rather, McKee had a warehouse full of retail goods waiting to be distributed to people in need. The year had been full of trauma and turmoil for the community, and many were becoming desperate. As related by McKee, “So much hope has been robbed from us this year. Families may struggle with being able to afford gifts for their children. Because of the pandemic, through no fault of their own, now they’re struggling to make ends meet let alone worry about gifts. What can we do to bless them and bring them a little bit of hope?” He knew that they could be greatly helped by the items in CORE’s warehouse, but the pandemic severely limited the methods for getting them into the proper hands.
Throughout the year CORE had been making pickups of donated items from area retailers under an agreement with Good360. They included items of all types – automotive, bed and bath, clothing, electronics, hardware, home appliance and furnishings, kitchen, lawn and garden, living room, and toys – nearly anything one might find at a big box retailer. McKee originally intended for periodic giveaways to happen throughout the year, but the pandemic put a stop to his plans. Bans on public gatherings and social distancing made such events impossible. McKee had been mulling over ideas, but nothing appeared ideal. He then asked himself, “What programs are already in place where we can maximize our giving to the community?” The question quickly led to Hollister School District.
McKee’s own children attended the school district, and he knew that the district held an annual holiday event whereby families were “adopted” and blessed with Christmas presents. The district would surely have identified hundreds of people who would benefit from what CORE already had in stock. McKee thus envisioned a much larger, perhaps even improbable, event whereby the resources of CORE and the Hollister School District would combine synergistically. The plan was huge, but families in need would be blessed beyond anybody’s imagination if they could pull it off. With this in mind he called Superintendent Dr. Brian Wilson, and scheduled a meeting at CORE’s warehouse.
As the two toured the facility going room to room, Dr. Wilson saw a genuine opportunity. He’d heard people come up with ideas over the years and learned to moderate his expectations. But what he saw at CORE’s facility was the real thing. Commenting on his visit, Dr. Wilson said, “I saw that, and I was moved. I saw what it could do for our families and our community. I’ve known Cary for many years and we’ve partnered on things before, but this was just overwhelming.” A new partnership was made, and the two principals called in their lieutenants to help make it happen.
On CORE’s side, McKee called upon Gary Osborn, whom he describes as a mastermind in logistics, to coordinate the monumental task of moving the inventory and reorganizing it at the school district. Dozens of CORE staff and volunteers would be enlisted to accomplish this over a period of weeks using CORE’s vehicles. Of their contribution, volunteer Bret Taylor, who also is a Hollister police officer regularly assigned to the school district, said, “They were phenomenal. They came over here and worked, stacking and organizing, making sure things were clean and that everything was presentable. It looked like a store. We helped and directed, but it was definitely CORE.“
For the school district’s part, significant space would be needed to create the Holiday Store. For this they set aside rooms in the Early Childhood Learning Center. More particularly, two parallel rooms, each the size of a school cafeteria. Dr. Wilson also called upon his counseling staff led by counselor Sandra Brown to coordinate an entirely new kind of holiday event. In past years, hundreds of people receiving assistance would come and go at their own convenience. This year, each of the individuals and families would be scheduled to arrive at specific dates and times. They not only would pick up the customary assistance, but also they would be invited to shop in the Holiday Store for whatever they needed. School district personnel would be needed to help organize the store, coordinate appointments, and be on hand while people shopped.
In addition to CORE and the school district, several other organizations volunteered time too, such as the teacher’s union (MSTA), Rotary Club of Hollister, and The Connell Insurance Group.
In a mere six weeks, the Holiday Store was ready. Even as the first families arrived, it was apparent that the event would be successful. Everyone was touched by an outpouring of gratitude and joy. As Sandy Brown observed, “What’s Christmas about? It’s about giving hope. It’s been a rough year, so the hope coming from this is huge. Just seeing the families come in and being excited about taking home things they never could afford.” Fellow counselor Ben Miller agreed, adding, “In previous years there were times where families sought support and there weren’t enough resources. This year’s different. We’re just over the moon to have the support this year because of the families who really need it.”
In addition to hundreds of persons receiving support, all who helped make this happen felt equally blessed. They were reminded that some of the most important Christmas gifts can’t be wrapped – like the giving of our time and helping fill someone’s heart with joy. As McKee remarked, when CORE’s clients recover and become sober in mind and spirit, they are filled with gratitude and just want to serve and to give of themselves: “What we teach here is a God-centered life that naturally leads a person to give of themselves without us even pushing them. It’s a beautiful thing. They found joy in it!” School district staff agreed that Christmas indeed is the season of giving. Dr. Watkins said “Our ultimate goal is to bless people. Covid-19 has robbed us of things we normally do and take for granted. This event has allowed us to make a difference in another’s life by being able to bless them.” Counselor Jennifer Miller further added, “It’s been a blessing not only for the families but for all of the people working on it!”
Everybody commenting on the Holiday Store expressed genuine interest in seeing it continue in the future. Officer Taylor summed up everyone’s feelings when he said, “If CORE’s got inventory, we’ve definitely got the people who need it and the space to give it out!” McKee further expressed his personal thanks to all of the CORE staff and volunteers who gave of themselves to help make Christmas a little brighter for the community during this event.