A community gives and receives at CSL Christmas store

By Bill Althaus bill.althaus@examiner.net

One by one, the cars pulled into the parking lot at the Independence Uptown Market.

“Looks like we’re going to be busy again this afternoon,” said Community Services League special events assistant Sharon Wingate as volunteers lined up at the front doors to welcome patrons to the CSL’s annual Christmas Store event.

Independence resident Sarai Coe visits with Community Services League volunteer Sarah Turner at the CSL’s annual Christmas Store event at the Independence Uptown Market. Like many of the participants at Monday’s event, Coe was a first-time visitor as she was looking for presents for her two sons and daughter.

“We’re at this new site this year, and it’s wonderful! We have so much more room than we did when we had our Christmas store at our building, and when you can take your time and look at all our presents, it just puts you in the Christmas spirit.”

Wingate paused for a moment, as her eyes became teary.

“We had a grandmother come by today, who just lost everything in a fire,” Wingate said. “She was here to get toys for her four grandchildren. Can you imagine? And she was deaf - but she was filled with the Christmas spirit as we helped her select gifts for her grandchildren.

“I feel like God has blessed us by being able to help so many families this year. It’s a true blessing, and we can’t thank the people of Independence enough for their donations during a very trying time.”

Christmas is going to be a bit merrier for Carl Toothman and his two daughters as she shops at the Community Services League’s Christmas store with volunteer Kelli Symonds. Toothman lost his job and said he was thankful for the opportunity to get gifts for his children at the event held Monday at the Independence Uptown Market.

This year the Christmas Store will help more than 1,500 families get a variety of gifts for their families this holiday season, along with a holiday meal that includes a turkey or chicken and all the holiday side dishes.

Community Services League special events assistant Sharon Wingate, left, and senior site manager Bruce Bailey talk about where to put a donation of fishing poles at this week’s Christmas store in Independence.

All gifts are arranged on tables for boys and girls aged 6 to 12 months, 12 to 18 months, 2 to 3 years, 4 to 5 years, 6 to 8 years, 9 to 12 years and teens.

“This really is one of my favorite days of the year,” Wingate added. “Look at the smiles. I just wish everyone who donated something today could see the smiles.”

Volunteer Kelli Symonds saw the smile on Carl Toothman’s face as he selected gifts for his two daughters.

“There’s a big difference between being here, and actually helping the families select their gifts and writing a check or donating something to a charity, because you can see the impact it makes,” Symonds said, as Toothman nodded in agreement.

“I never really thought I would be coming to this Christmas Store, but I lost my job because of the pandemic, and I just don’t have the money right now to (buy) anything for my two girls,” Toothman said.

“I’m getting them some clothes, which they really need. And I’m hoping to find some computer things – you know how kids love to be on their computers.”

Sarai Cox, another first-time shopper, was looking for items for her two young boys and teenage daughter.

“I read about this in the paper and thought, ‘Why not apply?’ and I did, and here I am,” Cox said. “And I’m so thankful for the Community Services League. It makes me feel good that people, who don’t even know me, want my family to have a better Christmas.”

And what was 17-year-old Shelby looking for?

“Duct tape,” she quipped. “If you have duct tape, you have everything you’ll ever need.”