Over the next two weeks or so, people will fill the shelves of the Cleveland County Christmas Store on Robinson Street with toys, clothes, food and more.
Then, over the course of five days, those same people who stocked the shelves will have earned items for themselves and their families to ensure they have a merry Christmas. It’s how the shop has operated since it was opened in the early 1970s.
“It’s a hand up, not a handout,” said Jeani Olson, who has volunteered at the store for 12 years. “That’s our motto.”
And since it began, the University of Oklahoma has offered a helping hand to the store in various ways. Henderson Scholars volunteer to work the front desk.
But someone has to help deliver all of the gifts that are donated by the community. That’s where OU Parking and Transportation and Cleveland Area Rapid Transit come in.
Fill the Trolley has been going continuously since 2005, assistant to the director Betty Love said. Director Kris Glenn has kept the holiday tradition going, in which parking and transportation employees board a CART trolley and pick up boxes of toys from participating OU departments.
“We all work together to distribute the boxes and go pick up the toys,” Love said. “We have some departments that really collect a lot. Some of them have just a few employees, but they put together all of these toys.”
Over the course of two days, the CART trolley moved back and forth from campus to the Christmas Store, full of gifts for the “Toyland” rooms divided by age. On Wednesday, it made its final journey to Monnet Hall, home of the Carl Albert Center and Western Histories Collection, where faculty had collected dozens of bikes that will go to some lucky children this Christmas.
“We’re so blessed by what is given to us,” Olson said. “I cry at least once every year; it always gets me. It’s so heart-warming that the community comes together and does so much.”
Gifts — whether they be toys, home items or food — are brought to the Christmas Shop and stored in inventory rooms. There are gifts for senior citizens and even mom and dad.
“Even the children get to shop,” Olson said. “They come in here and pick out something for mom and dad. But they have to bring a dime so they have ‘bought’ it.”
Those who want to use the Christmas Store must qualify first. There are income requirements based on the amount of people in a home, and proof of residence must be provided.
Olson said the vast majority, around 98 percent and 99 percent of applicants, are approved. Then, it’s time to work.
“The clients come in and they register to see if they qualify,” she said. “Then they come and work two hours.”
The idea is those who then shop in the store feel that they have earned a Christmas for themselves and their family. A volunteer walks the client through the store, letting them know how much they can take in each room.
Homeland and Feed the Children helped stock a room full of food, while Homeland also sent bags of toiletries for each person that comes through. There are also bags full of canned goods that were donated by schoolchildren and their families.
Over the decades, the volunteers who work at the Christmas Store have learned how the process goes. So after each wave of shoppers, from the first one on Dec. 11 through the last on Dec. 14, shelves are restocked.
“At the end of each shopping period, volunteers will go restock the shelves,” said Brad Hawkins, another volunteer and former OU staff member. “They control the inventory so that everyone who comes through gets as much of a chance to get what they need.”