The Christmas Blessing Store Turns Four!

The Christmas Blessing Store Turns Four!

In December, amid the glittering lights and festive cheer of the holiday season, a beacon of hope and encouragement was set up at the Hollister School District.  For the fourth consecutive year, CORE and the school district collaborated to establish the Christmas Blessing Store, allowing people to shop for household goods and toys without limits and at no charge.  This annual initiative not only emphasized the spirit of Christmas giving but also served as a powerful reminder of the impact achievable through community action.

The Christmas Blessing Store extended initial blessings to 124 families with 284 children, spanning grades PK through K-12.  One out of every five children in the Hollister School District received items from the store!  And that’s just the beginning of its impact.

This project is one of several humanitarian initiatives that CORE engages in throughout the year.  CEO Cary McKee articulated the philosophy, stating, “Recovery teaches that we can’t keep what we don’t give.” His insight underscores the importance of active service in overcoming addiction.  Helping others provides an avenue to get out of “self” – the root of all addictions.

The Christmas Blessing Store originated in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic when social distancing ordinances made a public initiative unfeasible.  Cary sought a partnership with Hollister public schools, relying on the school district’s ability to identify individuals who would benefit from donated goods.

To appreciate the magnitude of this event, consider the time and factors involved. The project’s genesis lies in the generosity of area retailers, whose donations reflect a commitment to corporate social responsibility.  By acting as the “Secret Santas,” these retailers inspired the participants to direct the donations toward quality of life needs within the community.

CORE volunteers contributed thousands of hours to the project, with operations manager Gary Osborn explaining, “Our work for this project began a year ago, as soon as the last event concluded. Every Tuesday, we’d make donation pickups from area retailers, continuously for 52 weeks.”

With donations pouring in, CORE’s Branson warehouse rapidly filled, necessitating yet another volunteer workforce to organize, sort, group, and ensure individual products were of merchantable quality.  House manager Caren Barnes coordinated these activities for the warehouse, which required additional volunteers throughout CORE.  “Over the course of 8 months, I went through the whole program.  It was different people every week, not just my house,” she said.    

In November, CORE transported a year’s worth of labor and merchandise to the school district, prompting immediate action by the district’s staff and volunteers. Sandy Brown, overseeing the district’s efforts, explained, “The first CORE trucks came in on November 19th, and most of the day-to-day work was done by the counselors, working with CORE people who did a phenomenal job organizing. We had help from different classes, too, including gifted classes assisting with toys and bicycles, along with students in our community-based learning program.”

While the Christmas Blessing Store emerges as a win-win project for all of the participants, everyone who contributed to this initiative emphasized the children as a key motivating factor. Sandy affirmed, “Everything that Hollister does is for the kids and helping ensure that every child is successful.” Cary added, “It’s about serving the community and school district, but most importantly, the children. It’s about creating a lasting Christmas memory, where the promises of joy and surprise loom large.”

Our pictures were taken while this event was in progress – after a substantial number of individuals already had shopped at the store.  Cary observed that further expansion is in order.  “We’re still receiving items even now.  We’ll look to expand our reach in the coming year and beyond, by reaching other school districts in the eastern Taney County,” he said.  Merchandise not distributed at this event went to other nonprofits that could put these items into the right hands.  

Cary expressed his sincerest thanks to the school district, area retailers, volunteers, and staff who contributed to make this year’s Christmas Blessing Store such a success.