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This is a guest post by Julie Ebersole of the Humanists of Houston and longtime volunteer with the Houston Area Women’s Center.
Those of us who choose to celebrate any of the winter holidays know that it can take a lot of time, effort, and money. Now, imagine trying to put together a celebration while struggling to escape domestic violence, or recover from sexual assault, or fight your child's abuser in court. The Houston Area Women's Center Holiday Store gives families impacted by domestic and sexual violence the normality—and fun!—of shopping for presents in December. That's why Humanists of Houston, a Volunteers Beyond Belief team, was proud to volunteer at the 2012 Holiday Store.
The Holiday Store is entirely stocked with donations. It’s physically created by taking over space in the main office building of the Houston Area Women's Center, and it can involve more than a hundred volunteers. All told, 15 members of Humanists of Houston (HOH) volunteered for at least one three-hour shift (and usually more) over the course of this year’s store. During setup, extra-large gift items were inventoried by one conscientious HOH volunteer who worked an entire day to finish. HOH volunteers also took on the jobs of unloading carloads of donations, sorting donations into age-appropriate groups, breaking apart bulk-packaged items, and assembling small items into gift baskets. It was a treat to see people's artistic flair emerge as they hand-tied every bow on those baskets.
During store operation, most HOH volunteers assisted clients with shopping. Every client family was paired with one or two volunteers who guided them through the store and helped carry all of their selections. One of the thoughtful details of the store was the separation of parents/caregivers and children to do their shopping in different rooms. The adults shopped for their children, while children were able to pick out a gift for their caregiver and wrap it however they chose. Hence a few volunteers each shift had the happy task of keeping enthusiastic children supplied with paper, tape, ribbons, and bows. The Humanists of Houston had a great time contributing to a successful event, and our HOH shirts prompted several good outreach conversations when other volunteers and staff asked “What is a humanist, anyway?”
We hope everyone had as much fun making a difference while representing nonbelievers in December as we did!