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Chester County Press

The spirit of giving

11/27/2015 10:17AM ● By J. Chambless

Joanie Barry, the associate pastor at the Oxford Church of the Nazarene, puts together the Community Christmas Closet each year so families can come and take whatever they need.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

In the season of giving, not being able to afford to buy presents is a sting that can leave a mark on a family.

On Dec. 5 at the Oxford Church of the Nazarene, the doors will open to families to come and shop for whatever they need, share some holiday spirit and not have to pay anything.

“I really wanted to do something to give back to the community,” said Joanie Barry, associate pastor at the church. “I was trying to find something for the children to come to – almost like a Santa's closet, but it's free. They can come and get things and have them wrapped and take them home for Christmas for their families.”

The Community Christmas Closet idea began three years ago, when Barry adapted the idea of the children's shopping area to include the whole family. “It was something I thought of, then I shared it with Carol Ann Amy, who is our compassionate ministries director,” Barry said. “She thought it was a great idea, and so the two of us teamed up our ministries and ran with it.”

Donations come from the church's members and the broader community. The items are new or gently used, and include holiday decorations, housewares, toys, books, clothing, electronics and just about anything else a family might need for themselves, or to give as gifts.

“When a child comes in, we don't necessarily put a limit on what they can take. For adults and older teens, we usually have a limit of 10 items per person that they can take,” Barry explained. “At the end, around a half hour before it closes, we invite everyone to come back and take whatever else they want. If anything is left, it gets donated to Neighborhood Services, and the clothes go to our compassionate ministries center.”

Church members prepare desserts and baked goods to be given away at the event, which fills the church's fellowship hall. “Our youth get involved by re-folding clothes, or helping people carry items,” Barry said. “Our preteens are sorting through the donations now. We have a group of National Honor Society students helping out as well.”

For Barry -- who is a kindergarten aide at Avon Grove Charter School Early Learning Center, and oversees nursery through sixth grade at the church – organizing the annual giveaway has become a family tradition during a very busy time of year. Her two children, Karaline and Philip, get involved as well. “They help out a lot and they love being here,” Barry said.

The reactions of families who are down on their luck make Barry smile. “We had a sister and two brothers come through to pick stuff out for their families,” she said. “They were so excited to get them wrapped. They had big plastic bags full of gifts. They were just so thrilled hat they had something to give. That really warmed my heart.

“On the first year, the church had helped this family out through another program, and they came to the event and were giving us hugs,” Barry said. “It was great to build that relationship, that bridge to their lives.”

The day of the event begins with a line of families, Barry said, and the crowd is steady all day. “The first two hours, it's like the opening of a yard sale. It's a rush,” Barry said. “It's a steady number of people after that. What's so great is the team of people we have – the kids leadership team and the compassionate ministries team. It's a great group of people to work with. We're kind of in our groove, so we know that the responsibilities are. We just get it done. I'm so thankful for them.”

This year, there will be a room where children can come and pick out presents for their family members. “There will be no adults allowed,” Barry said of the room, which will be staffed with helpers and wrappers so children can keep their gifts a secret until Christmas morning.

Donations began arriving at the church in early November, and were stacked in a spare room before being sorted and placed in the fellowship hall. Barry said the event is a great way to “re-gift” things you might not have had a use for, and the community has always responded generously.

“I'm not sure what the future holds for this, whether it will bloom into something larger,” Barry said. “Right now it's once a year, but I'm not sure how God will lead. At this point, people are just welcome to come and take what they need.”

The Community Christmas Closet will be held Dec. 5 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Oxford Church of the Nazarene (116 E. Locust St., Oxford). For more information, call 610-932-2584 or visit

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email [email protected].