Gifts send a message of love from the whole community, King believes.
As the nonprofit’s name suggests, Christmas Come True raises money, gathers toy donations, recruits volunteers, and points all those resources toward one day: Dec. 25. But as much as founder Nadine King believes in making Christmas special, she also believes that CCT has the power to change not just a day, but a life.
In particular, she hopes it helps teenagers see the good in the world.
“Teens are the ones that really need attention,” she said while giving me a tour of the 8,000-square-foot staging area at Roma Court, where volunteers were finalizing the gift packages for 155 families. “They’re angry because they have grown up with nothing.”
Many of the teens may have gone without a bicycle that might have empowered them to find a job, or they might have missed out on sports because they couldn’t afford the equipment, she said.
When teens receive their gifts on Christmas, King suspects they’ll know that even though the gifts were chosen by the parents, they were provided by the community via CCT, and that’s OK with King. In fact, it could be powerful statement to the teen: The community supports you. We are on your side, rooting for your happiness.
“I look at this room,” King said, pointing to the rows of gifts, “and it’s overflowing with generosity and love — for children they don’t know.”
With printers, wrapping stations and sorting areas, just about all of those 8,000 square feet are put to use by King and her volunteers, some of whom work every day during the holiday season. Some, like Liz McKenna, work for up to 12 hours a day.
“I’m a Christmas freak,” McKenna said. “I love the religion behind it. Jesus is the reason.”
She started as a toy wrapper last Christmas. Then she learned about the full process. “I was in awe,” she recalled. “Now that I’ve seen it from start to finish, I’m even more in awe.”
Elaine Jajoie started volunteering one day because King said she needed some help with office work. That quickly turned into something else: During the summer, when CCT also helps families in need, Lajoie helped load seven mattresses into a home on a 100-degree day. “What have I gotten into?” she thought to herself.
Then Lajoie talked to the grandmother who was receiving the mattresses for herself and her grandchildren, after their home had been ruined in a storm.
“As we were leaving, she looked at me and said, ‘I can’t believe I can actually sleep in my own bed tonight,’” Lajoie recalled. “When she said that, I lost it.”
Some of the requests for Christmas gifts are also sobering to the volunteers. Children ask for fishing rods and soccer balls, but also bed sheets, deodorant, body wash.
“Children shouldn’t have to ask for bed sheets,” said Lisa Ruberg.
Ruberg is another volunteer who started out making a small time commitment and then became part of the daily crew.
“I jumped into the deep end, because this is such a wonderful opportunity,” she said.
Ruberg said she has been to the Super Bowl and other awe-inspiring events. But nothing compares to CCT’s room of gifts.
"Grown men cry when they see that room."
LISA RUBERG, volunteer, referring to the spread of gifts collected from the community
“Grown men cry when they see that room,” she said to me. “It will make your hair stand up. If you end up in our group, we understand.”
The rows of gifts, carefully chosen after one to two hours of interviews with the parents, are packaged and labeled on tables. It’s a lot of space, and that’s a big challenge every year for King.
The third floor of City Marketplace hosted the staging area last year, but it wasn’t available for 2021, so King started calling around. Weeks past, and it was October, then November, and she still didn’t have a place. Meanwhile, the toys were starting to pile up.
“I had real estate agents looking, knocking on doors,” King said. “We were actually going to start renting out tiny storage units.”
Finally, in the nick of time, the owners of Kid City in Roma Court called: brothers Mark Aitchison and Doug Aitchison. With thousands of dollars of toys, clothes and bicycles spread out on tables and staging areas, the windows were covered with wrapping paper to keep the area — and the valuable merchandise inside — a secret.
Next year, King is hoping for someone to donate space again. Or, better yet, she is hoping for a building of her own that can house not only CCT but a resource for the community that could have even more power to change lives.
Imagine a building, a community center of sorts, that is a hub of innovation and empowerment. It would have a workspace, a 3-D printer, a sewing room, a podcast studio, office space. It would be a think tank, a place where teens could be connected to community resources and mentors to help them invent, explore, create.
"We have so many talented kids," King said. She lamented the fact that teens often feel isolated, often due to spending so much time with cell phones. "We have created the children that don't want to talk to us," she said. "We need to say, 'We are sorry we gave you those and sent you into your bedroom.' We made them angry. Teenagers need to know we love them."
King wants to call this new center, Innovative Community Resource Solutions. All it would take is $4 million or so to make it a reality. King is open to selling naming rights, she said with a smile.
She knows it’s a dream right now, but if you look down the rows of gifts and consider what CCT has become with King at the helm, you won’t feel foolish if you start to believe.