The History of the Christmas Store
It all started when…
The Montgomery County Christmas Store began in 1982 through the efforts of several citizens in our area who were concerned with the limited resources for aiding low-income families in the County at Christmas. Having seen an article in a grocery store magazine about a Christmas store in Norman, Oklahoma, LaVina Tyndall wondered if this could happen here. She mentioned it to Sally Bohland, who had moved to Blacksburg from Norman shortly before that with her husband, Jim. LaVina and Sally put their heads together with Nancy Bowman, who worked for the office of youth in Montgomery County.
Prior to discussion about the article, Sally and Nancy had been to a meeting called by the County’s Social Services offices. The office was overwhelmed with requests from groups and individuals to find families to donate “baskets” to. They needed help. That proved to be our needs assessment and without their help through the years in identifying needy families and individuals, the Store could not have been as successful.
Prior to 1982, The Voluntary Action Center (VAC) had been the agency primarily committed to providing Christmas aid, through Christmas baskets. Because LaVina's husband, Glenn, directed the Wesley Foundation, which housed the Voluntary Action Committee in its center, it seemed a natural fit to work together to develop this project. VAC was willing to work together with these concerned citizens, so a meeting was organized with their help and held at the Wesley Foundation in February of 1982. This meeting included individuals, plus representatives of churches and civic clubs. A general agreement was reached on the viability of this idea, and with VAC's help, a Board of Directors was created. This group met throughout 1982 for the purpose of organizing, fund raising, and planning. A donated store front was secured from Ward and Terry Teel on First Street in Christiansburg (immediately behind the current Christmas Store building).
In 1982, 267 families were served, and a budget of less than $20,000 was raised. The basic idea, was that families would be screened and deemed eligible, then given a shopping time/appointment. They would then come to the Store and, with the help of a hostess/host, they would shop for toys and clothing for their children, select used clothing for themselves, and receive a food basket for Christmas dinner. Points were used as currency, and no cash was involved. Eligible Seniors were also able to receive these services. Small children were able to have a wrapped gift for each of their parents.
Following the success of the first Store, the Board was able to get certified as a non-profit corporation in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and qualify for tax deductible giving. The Store got its own P.O. Box and its own bulk mailing permit (they had used VAC's up to this point) making it independent. The number of families served and funds raised grew steadily throughout the 1980s. The number of volunteers participating also grew dramatically to the point where, eventually, more than a thousand volunteers were involved each season. In the late 1980s, during the Wilder administration, the Christmas Store was awarded the Governor's Award for Volunteering Excellence
One of the ongoing problems in the early years was securing a building that was cheap enough and large enough to suit the needs. Members of the Board of Directors dreamed of someday having their own building. Montgomery County was very generous through the years, providing the former Adult Learning Center, the former Library building, and the so-called "pants factory" on Roanoke Street which is now the Government Center for the County. In addition, Clinton Graves, a local mover and property owner, was incredibly generous in providing sites for the store, including the old Triangle Equipment Building and the old Heck's store.
After several years of concentrated fund raising, including the selling of tax credits, enough money was raised for a down payment on the current property on Main Street in downtown Christiansburg. Two suites were re-developed as commercial rental properties, and that rental income has been used to reduce and eliminate the debt on the property. Having a permanent home has greatly simplified the carrying out of the project each year . It also helped to make the Christmas Store a positive downtown neighbor for others. The Store remains an all volunteer project; aside from a bookkeeping service, there is no paid staff for the ongoing operation of the Store.
The Christmas Store has come a long way since 1982. In 2018, more than 1,300 low-income families were served with dignity, privacy and abundance. This figure includes some 1,800+ children and 900+ seniors and disabled adults. In addition, the Store raised more than $277,600 from our community. Accordingly, the volunteer base has increased to nearly 1,000 individuals. Some buy goods, others decorate, some sort donated goods, while others screen or host shoppers. The Christmas Store is truly a community effort.
Early on, a respected person in the community asked "Will success spoil the Christmas Store?" Evidence seems to indicate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Store has handled success quite well. This project remains the primary Christmas celebration for the low-income community in our County, and has the well deserved reputation of going the second mile to help Christmas happen for thousands of individuals.