EASLEY — Santa Shoppe vouchers in hand, hundreds of upstate moms and dads are turning to The Dream Center to make their children’s Christmas wishes come true.
Since first opening in December 2013, The Santa Shoppe Assistance Program has been giving struggling families the means to provide a memorable Christmas for their kids — even if not in the typical way.
“We used to do what is called ‘one-way giving,’” said Chris Wilson, executive director for The Dream Center. “Then we read the book ‘Toxic Charity’ by Robert D. Lupton. Basically what he said was that when you buy presents and give them to the parents to give to their children, you are — however unintentionally — stealing that sense of pride away from the parent. So we changed.”
Instead of directly donating the gifts to the parents, with The Santa Shoppe Assistance program, parents earn them.
“If you have one child, you take four classes, with two kids, six classes, and so on,” said Wilson. “At the completion of the classes, parents receive a shopping voucher and then shop in the Santa Shoppe by appointment.”
The Santa Shoppe is filled with new, unwrapped donated toys appropriate for every age group, from birth to age 18.
“We have bicycles, toy kitchens, rattles and action figures. We have it all,” Wilson said.
Wilson stated that although she and the staff at The Dream Center believe in their “earn it” philosophy, initially it was a hard sell within the community.
“There was a lot of people who just didn’t understand why were having classes for the vouchers. They thought we should just give the parents the toys,” she said. “I had to constantly explain that we weren’t doing it to be mean, that we sincerely believe that relationships and how you make people feel is more fulfilling. And the parents agree.
“We had these feedback cards that we gave out once people had gone through the program and all of them — one hundred percent — said how much they enjoyed their time here and that the people were so nice,” Wilson added. “When a parent attends the classes, they’ve earned those vouchers. They can look at their kids with pride as they open their gifts on Christmas morning and think ‘I did that.’”
Referrals for parents to enroll in the classes stem from the local school systems. The Dream Center’s Santa Shoppe runs through Dec. 19 and is currently serving children through the School District of Pickens County School as well as Anderson District I. There are more than 900 children who will benefit from the Santa Shoppe this year.
“We still are accepting donations, especially in the age ranges of 2 to 5 and 6 to 9,” said Wilson.
Donations of new, unwrapped toys can be dropped off at The Dream Center, 111 Hillcrest Drive in Easley.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.