There was no need for electricity in the small dining area, just inside the massive Blue Springs Assembly on Duncan Road.
That’s because Stephanie Ester’s smile lit up the entire church that has served as the home of the Community Services League Christmas Store the past five years.
“My, oh my, I’d be lost in tall weeds if it wasn’t for Miss Melodie and the Community Services League,” Ester said, referring to CSL’s Blue Springs manager Melodie Chrisman and her staff and volunteers. “I have a 16-year-old – who is going on 30 – and we were in trouble, big time trouble, back in 2011 and the Community Services League saved us. They provided us with a security deposit, they helped us with clothes and food and now, they’re taking care of my daughter and me for Christmas. PRAISE THE LORD!
“My little girl and I are going to have a wonderful Christmas. I can’t wait to see what the store has this year.”
While Christmas officially falls on Dec. 25 every year, for Chrisman, her volunteers and the 160 Blue Springs families – totalling 483 men, women and children – it takes place on Dec. 16, the day the CSL Christmas Store opens its doors at 9 a.m. This has been a part of the Blue Springs holiday season the past 15 years.
“This is my favorite day of the year, and it’s all because we can help sweeties like Stephanie and her daughter,” said Chrisman, who had been at the store since the sun came up early Wednesday morning. “Just look around – is this the most amazing thing you have ever seen? Blue Springs, you’ve done it again. I didn’t think we could top last year, but we have. The city is so generous – oh my goodness, the stories I could tell you . . .”
A local church made a sizeable donation so that the hundreds and hundreds of toys on hand all had batteries.
A CSL fan went to garage sales for the past year, collecting every Christmas tree ornament and holiday decoration and wrapping paper he could find, so the families could not only select gifts, but wrap them and set a festive tone in their homes.
There were three tables of books – just books – ranging from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – to more serious works for mom and dad and grandma and grandpa. And everyone was able to take one home.
Six tables were filled with electronics and everyone who entered the store was sure to leave with a warm hat, scarf and gloves.
And for those hard to find teens?
“Gift cards!” Chrisman said, waving a handful of cards through the air. “If a teenager or their parent can’t find the right gift, we have gift cards. Local retailers were wonderful in donating cards.”
Sitting in the dining area, biding her time until her number was called to enter the Christmas Store, 81-year-old Helen patiently waited until she could enter and find something for her “little babies.”
“I’ll get something for me – I’m really the only person I have to look for, for gifts, but I have two little babies, my little dogs, back home and I want to get them something for Christmas,” Helen said. “The Lord really opened my eyes when He helped me find Melodie and the Community Services League. I didn’t even have Christmas before I came to the Christmas Store, and now, my babies and I have Christmas like everyone else. What a wonderful blessing. There are so many good people in the world, and the people who work with Melodie are a blessing to all of us.”
A familiar volunteer, who was making sure all the tables were filled with the proper items before the family members came in, was Patty Mohn, the wife of CSL chairman Cliff Mohn.
“I’ve worked with families all my life,” Patty said, “and it’s still overwhelming to walk into the gym and see table after table filled with toys, clothes, books – everything you could ever need to have a wonderful Christmas. I know Melodie said this gets bigger and better every year, and it does. It’s so special to be a part of something like this.”
As the doors to the Christmas store open, the families are handed large bags to fill with their Christmas goodies.
Ester heads to a table filled with “things a 16 year old would like.”
“Before we found out about the Community Services League, we didn’t know if we were even going to have a home,” Ester said, still sporting the biggest and brightest smile in the Christmas Store. “Now, we have a home and we’re going to have Christmas in our home, thanks to Miss Melodie and everyone at the Community Services League.”