Local ministry helps children have a Merry Christmas

Barbara Hootman

Rooms filled with toys, clothes, decorations and just about anything a boy or girl could ask for are an answer to a prayer for many parents who don’t have the money to shop for Christmas.

The Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry’s Christmas Assistance Program, for children up to 12 years old, serves the Black Mountain, Swannanoa, Ridgecrest, East Asheville, and Montreat communities. Applications are available at the ministry office, 101 N. Ridgeway Ave., Black Mountain (828-660-9404).

Merchandise manager Helen Kraus, a ministry volunteer, sorts, arranges and makes the Christmas rooms a seasonal reality. There are three filled rooms ready for shoppers who qualify for SVCM’s help.

“I’ve been working with the Christmas rooms for about four years now,” Kraus said. “It is a year’s work since we collect for them all year. Everything in the rooms comes from donations from the generous communities of the Swannanoa Valley.”

The big rooms filled with donations were without order when Kraus started her work.

“I am an organized person, so I knew that I had found a niche where I was really needed,” she said. “It was a hodge podge when I first started, but now each room is attractive and orderly. There is no charge to the parents to shop. They are reserved and never ask for too much. No one is greedy. One or two gifts for a child is the usual request.”

Kraus volunteers three to four hours every Thursday year-round at the ministry. She said she does so because it gives her a chance to give back to the community.

“It gives me a really good feeling to help those who can’t afford to have Christmas,” she said. “They can afford Christmas at the SVCM. This project is fulfilling and has become a part of me.”

In the rooms, there are Barbie dolls, accessories, even play furniture. There are bikes, and trucks and cars, all shiny like new. Every toy requiring batteries has them. If repairs are needed, Kraus finds someone to do it, if she can’t. There are cuddly stuffed toys and oversized ones and games for all ages.

The Christmas decor room has everything from trees to Nativity sets to place mats and just about anything to accessorize a room for Christmas. The toddler room is a heart-stealer with tiny outfits and toys to stimulate the young brain.

“Many children up to 12 years old still believe in Santa Claus, and we help supply that joy and hope,” Kraus said. “Every child should have a Christmas present under the tree.”

A group of 10 volunteers work with clients to help them select gifts.

“The gifts bring hope to the families,” ministry executive director Renae Brame said. “Helen spends an entire year receiving donated gifts, organizing them and keeping the rooms beautiful. She is very organized, and we have really benefited from her help. She makes Christmas bright and beautiful for so many. She is such a blessing for the children.”