Largest Rescue Mission Offers 4,500 Christmas Presents to L.A. Poor, Homeless

With nearly a week left before Christmas as parents and children scurry to buy and wrap gifts, the nations’ largest rescue mission opened the doors of its ‘‘Christmas Store’’ and offered an estimated 4,500 brand new gifts to homel

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 16 – With nearly a week left before Christmas as parents and children scurry to buy and wrap gifts, the nations’ largest rescue mission opened the doors of its ‘‘Christmas Store’’ and offered an estimated 4,500 brand new gifts to homeless and poor parents to give to their children – free of charge.

The Union Rescue Mission’s (URM) “Christmas Store” with its beckoning old-fashion, small town toy shop entrance welcomed over 750 poor Los Angeles families for a free Christmas shopping spree. In its 14th year, the “Christmas Store” invited shoppers on Dec. 15-16 to its headquarters in downtown Los Angeles where parents were able to shop for two large gift items and one small “grab bag” gift for their children in a department store-like atmosphere.

“While there are many programs out there that provide toys and presents to underprivileged children during the holidays, URM takes it a step further by providing not only the gifts, but the experience of shopping for, selecting, and wrapping the gifts,” said Rescue Mission President Andy Bales in a statement. “We believe that just because you have fallen on hard times doesn’t mean you can’t provide a special Christmas experience for your family, including the tradition of holiday shopping.”

Kelley L. Batt, a shopper at URM “Christmas Store,” is one such person who fell on hard times. She recently lost her oldest son, and without insurance, she spent all the money she had saved up to bury him – leaving nothing left to buy Christmas gifts for her remaining young children this year.

“This Christmas store has allowed me to put more under the feet of my small children and allow their Christmas to be a good one,” Batt said. “They are still in the grieving process, so they will maybe be able to get past that.”

Batt has three remaining children ranging from the ages of 5-11 and she currently lives at a transitional home at LA Mission.

Parents, such as Batt, who are facing hard times this Christmas season, can choose the perfect gift for their children at the “Christmas Store.” Toys are separated into booths by age groups such as infants (newborn-2 years), elementary (age 5-12 years), and teen (13 and up). All gifts are brand new and were collected by donations received at over 750 participating Subway restaurants in the Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura counties. Among the gifts displayed were bicycles, CD players, Radios, TVs, remote control cars, basketballs, footballs, purses, lotions, and sets of Narnia books.

Furthermore, the shopping experience comes with all the amenities of a real department store, including personal shoppers, gift wrapping, and child-care.

In addition to the holiday shopping, underprivileged families were reminded of the Christian heritage and true meaning of Christmas. URM gave participating families a Bible and offered them the opportunity to pray with a volunteer during the

“Many of the people we serve at URM feel as though they have been forgotten about by society, and that they are no longer a part of a community. The Christmas Store helps to change that perception,” said Scott Johnson, director of operations at URM. “By providing the traditional shopping experience to people who would not otherwise be able to do so, we help bring back their sense of belonging,” he added.

Tickets, with which a family needs to shop, were distributed by other Los Angeles organizations working with needy families including: Para Los Niños, Catholic Charities, Midnight Mission, Los Angeles Mission, Central City Community Outreach, Beyond Shelter, and the Salvation Army.

URM’s Bales reflected that the most touching part of the “Christmas Store” event for him is, “When they (the children) meet up with their parents and see the big bag of gifts – the joy on the little ones faces. That is what brings me joy.”

Union Rescue Mission was established in 1891 and is dedicated to serving the poor and homeless. URM is the largest rescue mission of its kind in the United States and the oldest in Los Angeles. It provides a comprehensive array of emergency and long-term services, including food, shelter, clothing, medical, and dental care, Christian recovery programs, transitional housing, legal assistance, education, counseling, and job training to needy men, women, children, and families.