Christmas spirit surrounded shoppers at the Outreach Community Center's 18th annual Christmas Store in Carol Stream from the moment they walked in the door Saturday until they left with wrapped gifts in hand.
About 440 shoppers chose two gifts for each of their children from a donated supply of 3,000 items and got to purchase them at a markdown better than many Black Friday deals -- 75 percent off.
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Families who use Outreach Community Center services such as a food pantry, tutoring and a case management program were invited in November to attend the shopping event designed to make Christmas more affordable, said the Rev. Donald Robinson, executive director of the center, a division of Wheaton-based Outreach Community Ministries.
"Generally, these are working families trying to do the best they can for their household," Robinson said. "This lets them shop and feel like they've done something for their families."
Each family is given a 30-minute shopping appointment, during which a volunteer personal shopper guides them to age-appropriate gifts for their children.
Shopper Angelique Marquez of Carol Stream said she appreciated the festive touches of the day, including Christmas cookies, carolers and free gift-wrapping.
"It's nice that they have a personal shopper that follows you around," Marquez said after choosing gifts for her 5- and 10-year-old sons from a variety of Legos, toy cars, games and sporting goods. "It's priced very low, so it helps out a lot."
Marquez, who works as a medical biller and coder, said she participated in the Christmas Store for the third time to supplement other gifts she will be giving her sons on Christmas.
"It does help to give a little more to fill up under the tree," she said.
Aside from 360 volunteers helping Saturday, Robinson said 42 churches, businesses, schools and other organizations held gift drives to come up with the 3,000 gifts available.
Soccer balls, purses, boots, scooters, stuffed animals, card game sets, even 33 iPod Shuffles were among items parents bought at a discount Saturday. Proceeds from gift purchases are returned to the Outreach Community Center's case management fund, which helps southeast Carol Stream residents with housing, child care, food and job training, said Sarah Bradley, chairwoman of the Christmas Store committee.
"Most of the families are known here," Bradley said. "So it's a really sweet way to give back to them."