It is only October, but Burke United Christian Ministries is already getting into the holiday spirit.
On Thursday, Oct. 1, the ministry held a grand opening for a new Christmas store called “The Elves’ Workshop.” During the event, the ministry unveiled the store's unique mix of crafts, home decor and family-oriented games and activities.
“We’re under elf surveillance,” said Terre Colabella, the store’s manager. “There are elves hidden throughout the store, and the kids have to find where all of them are.”
In addition to the home decor products, the store features free family Christmas portraits, an opportunity for children to write a letter to Santa and free coloring books and crayons for them to take home.
“We want to incorporate the five senses,” Colabella said. “We have a Christmas smell going throughout the store and Christmas music playing. The only thing left is touch, which we can’t do that right now, but we want to touch their hearts.”
According to Colabella, ministry volunteers make all the products in the store. Volunteers upcycle items that have been donated to the ministry, adding ribbons, paint and other decorative elements to transform them into handmade Christmas decorations. Colabella said she is particularly excited about the miniature Christmas trees that can be seen throughout the store.
“The lights are battery-operated,” Colabella said. “They can’t have candles or plug-ins in many nursing homes or assisted living facilities, so maybe this can bring them some cheer in a sad world.”
In addition to the house-made crafts and decorations, The Elves’ Workshop also offers “Merry Makeovers.”
“Bring in a wreath or a centerpiece that needs some love,” Colabella said. “For a few dollars, we’ll update it and give it a new look.”
The Elves’ Workshop is open from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. every Monday through Saturday and is at 305-B W. Union St. All proceeds from the store support the ministry.
“The main purpose is to raise money for the ministry,” Colabella explained. “But we also want to bring peace, love and joy to everyone who comes into the store.”
In addition to The Elves’ Workshop, the ministry continues with regular daily operations. Each week, it provides food to clients through its soup kitchen and clothing assistance through its clothing store. The ministry also offers free counseling by appointment and financial assistance with utility bills and other essential expenses.
This year, the stresses of COVID-19 have added an additional burden to the ministry, meaning that the need for volunteers has never been more acute.
“We run on volunteer power,” said Alice Horton, the ministry’s executive director. “We have to keep that up if we’re going to serve our community effectively.”
According to Horton, the ministry has seen a significant decrease in volunteers since March. She explained that many of the ministry’s most consistent volunteers are retired, meaning they may be at higher risk for COVID-19-related complications if they become infected.
“The median age of our volunteers is probably around 65 to 70,” Horton said. “It has created a real challenge for us to try to make sure we keep everything going.”
Ten pitch in
On Friday, Sept. 25, a group of 10 volunteers from Partners Health Management spent the day at the ministry in an effort they refer to as a “Partners Takeover.” According to Stacy Bryant, marketing and communications supervisor for Partners, the group chose the ministry because of its members' genuine commitment to giving back to the community.
“It was an incredible experience working with the staff of Burke United Christian Ministries,” Bryant said. “I was only there for a day and got to see how much work goes into providing help and support. They do this like clockwork every week.”
Dolores Huffman, care manager at Partners, agreed.
“It was heartwarming work,” she said. “I have been beyond blessed, and I enjoy giving to others who might not be as fortunate as I have been.”
In addition to volunteers, the ministry needs food, clothing and monetary donations to keep running through the holiday season.
“If someone is willing to give a monetary donation, we can turn that into a lot more money through Second Harvest Food Bank,” Horton said. “It would cost about $20 to go to a store and get the same amount of food we can get for $5.”
For more information about donating to Burke United Christian Ministries or to become a volunteer, call its office at 828-433-8075.
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