CLOVER — Chris Wilson helped an elated 5-year-old girl navigate the aisles of the Family Dollar store in Clover on Saturday morning, choosing Christmas gifts for her siblings and her mom.
Wilson and many other adults trailed after young charges as they shopped, asking questions and making suggestions. For many of the children, the chance to buy gifts for others was a new experience.
The children deliberated over sippy cups and socks for young siblings, toy trucks and dolls for older siblings and jewelry, toiletries and other personal items for parents and grandparents.
“It’s wonderful. I think this is what Christmas is about, making someone else happy,” said Wilson, who shopped for her charge with the help of her daughter, Victoria.
The United Methodist Men of Clover’s First United Methodist Church invited 30 needy children, referred to the group by Clover School District social workers, to a day of shopping for family members, gift wrapping, Christmas songs and the biblical story of Christmas on Saturday.
The day ended with a surprise for each of the children.
Member Ben Montgomery started the annual program in 1996, after moving to Clover from Charlotte, where he had launched the program 40 years ago with another Methodist church.
“It all grew out of giving kids a chance to give gifts, to let them experience the joy of giving, instead of receiving,” Montgomery said. “Most of these children have never given a gift.”
Dennis Cameron, president of the men’s group at Clover UMC, said the group invites 30 needy children every year. Clover school social workers help the group identify the children and provide clothing and shoe sizes.
After a breakfast of biscuits, gravy and chocolate milk, each child had his or her picture taken with Santa.
Then each child received $30 in cash to purchase gifts for family members at the nearby Family Dollar store. Each child was accompanied to the store by one or more church members who helped them choose and pay for the gifts.
After shopping, the group returned to the church and the children wrapped the gifts with the help of their sponsors.
Lofton Livingston, 10, who helped a 5-year-old boy choose gifts with the help of Lofton’s dad and sister, said he enjoyed the trip. “It’s a good thing to do,” said Lofton.
Lofton walked through Family Dollar with his hands resting protectively on the shoulders of his charge. “He started out really shy,” Lofton said. “Once he got to know us, he is really fun.”
Ian Telford helped another 5-year-old boy choose and wrap gifts. “It’s a fantastic experience to help these children who are doing what they can to give their family a good Christmas,” he said.
Allen Fuller, a first-year participant in the ministry, was busy helping an 11-year-old girl pick out gifts for her siblings, mother, aunt and uncle and cousins. “It’s a great time of year to help others,” he said.
Montgomery said the men’s group raises money all year for the ministry, which costs about $3,000. He said about a third of the church participates in one form or another.
After a visit to the church sanctuary, where the children sang Christmas carols and heard the story of Jesus’ birth, each child received a package of gifts, including new shoes, a sweatshirt, books, candy and some toys.
The children also receive food and fruit for their families.
Volunteers helped the children try on the shoes and Cameron said the group would exchange those that don’t fit for the appropriate sizes. Cameron said only 19 children were able to come to the event, but the gifts would be delivered to schools for those who could not attend.
Montgomery said giving is more fun than getting at Christmas, and the children learn to experience that joy. “It’s a great ministry; I love it,” he said. “It’s as much fun for the sponsors as it is for the kids.”
Jennifer Becknell • 803-329-4077