North Park Students Unite to Provide Christmas Gifts for Chicago Kids

SAL Honors Celebration
The gifts donated by students, staff, and faculty served 140 children.

Changes to the Great Gift Shoppe aim at empowerment over charity

CHICAGO (December 23, 2015) — It’s a familiar scene this time of year: parents filing into shops to buy Christmas gifts. For the parents gathered on Saturday, December 12, at By the Hand Club for Kids on Chicago’s West Side, things were a little different. They shopped with vouchers earned through family involvement in By the Hand’s community programs, and they purchased gifts donated by North Park University’s students, staff, faculty, and alumni. 

At the event, called the Great Gift Shoppe, North Park students served hot chocolate, wrapped presents, and directed traffic. Putting gifts under the trees of Chicago families has been a holiday tradition at North Park for several years. The University partnered with By the Hand Club in Englewood and New Life Centers of Chicago this year, providing 140 children with gifts.

North Park students volunteering at the Great Gift Shoppe
North Park students volunteering at the Great Gift Shoppe.

The Great Gift Shoppe is a student-driven initiative, planned by the Urban Outreach Programming Team, 10 students who facilitate campus-wide service events. Over the past two years, the team has redesigned the program. “We had some deep dialogue with students about what it means that the only gift that a lot of these children were getting was coming from us—and not their family,” said Richard Kohng, the Urban Outreach coordinator at North Park. Out of this, they designed a shop, where the parents could be invested in the process. Parents request specific gifts for their children and buy them with vouchers.

Robert Cager, a student at North Park Theological Seminary and intern with University Ministries, oversaw this year’s program. “This new setup gives the parents the ability to actually gift their children with something rather than just accepting donations,” he said. “The parents are empowered and encouraged in this process.”

This shift in approach is part of an overall philosophy of student ministry at the University. According to Cager, “Missions and outreach ministry at North Park is not just about helping people, but it’s about humility and learning from those we’re called to help and minister to. The students also learn what it means to be content and grateful for what they have been privileged to receive back at home. This is learned by the students and taught by the families.”

Cager says he’s proud of how North Park students managed the event. “How they unified this past weekend to work for a cause that Christ has called us—loving our neighbors as ourselves—was simply amazing. With their outstretched hands this week, that love was displayed.”


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