Melissa Pitts is the Program Director for House of Ruth. She has coordinated the Holiday Store since 2006 and it is one of her favorite events of the year, so we thought we’d catch up with her as she prepares for the Holiday Store to open next week. To learn more about what in-kind donations are needed, check out our wish list.
How does the Holiday Store work?
Clients are asked to share their top three wishes for a personal Christmas gift. If they have children, they all come in together. The parent gets to go to one area and select gifts for each of their kids. And the kids get to go down to a separate area and choose something for mom or dad. For clients without children, a staff member or volunteer selects gifts based on their wish list.
What is your favorite part of running the holiday store?
We help the kids wrap the gifts for their parent. I get a kick out of the kids who are so excited they can’t hold it in. They run down the hall and are like, “Mom, I got you a gift! I’m not supposed to tell you what it is! It’s a blanket!”
What are some of the major challenges or stress factors victims of domestic abuse face around the holidays?
This is often their first time being separated during the holidays. It’s a lot of the same pressure other people feel – the commercialization and the pressure to give a lot of presents to their children.
One of the hardest things I have seen is when reality doesn’t line up with what they wish they could do, like having to turn down the gift of a Christmas tree because they are renting a single room with their three kids or sleeping on someone’s couch.
What do you hope clients will get from participating in the Holiday Store?
First and foremost, we want parents to know that we believe in their empowerment, down to the way that we give. We want them to be the givers of their children’s holiday gifts. For children, we want equip the kids to think about their parent.
The overall goal is that we have a community that is so generous and we want families to leave with a sense that someone does care, because domestic violence is often an issue of silence and isolation.
Is there a particular client story or experience that stands out for you?
We had a client who requested a Christmas tree, because her husband had always refused to let them have one. We only get a certain amount of trees donated and it is first come first serve. Unfortunately, she came too late to pick one out. Just as she was leaving, I remembered that we had this miniature purple Christmas tree sitting around. I raced outside and offered it to her, apologizing that it was all we had. She cried because purple was her daughter’s favorite color. So that was their family’s first Christmas tree.
Is there a particular donor story or gift that stands out to you?
There is a group of friends and colleagues who live locally and get together every year to hold a golf tournament and collect items for the Holiday Store. They always bring the donations in on the first day of the Holiday Store and they’ve been doing that for more than 20 years.