A week or so ago, this place had all the trappings of a little library, dark bookcases filled with all manner of books, tables and chairs sandwiched between a coffee shop and a neighborhood market.
But since my visit to the Carver Neighborhood Market, it has been transformed into a winter wonderland, and right about now, I imagine it bustling with hundreds of parents shopping for the perfect toy for their little ones, the naughty and the nice.
The annual makeover has been happening now since 1983, when the nonprofit Focused Community Strategies opened its first concept toy store, a place called Pride for Parents, in this piece of South Atlanta.
If you’ve ever been made to feel looked down upon for taking a handout for your kids in front of your kids, this story might just lift your spirits. It did mine because that simply doesn’t happen with FCS.
You can thank Bob Lupton, the nonprofit’s founder, for that.
When he founded the nonprofit in 1978, the goal was to adopt needy families at Christmas and after getting their wish list, deliver toys to their homes, said Katie Delp, FCS’ executive director.
When Lupton noticed fathers slipping out the back door and mothers’ eyes darting to the floor when volunteers arrived at their homes bearing gifts, he discerned that perhaps they were doing more harm than good.
“While everyone was well-intentioned, it exposed parents’ inability to provide in front of their kids,” Delp said.
And so in 1983, Lupton decided to take the same donated toys, price them at 30 to 50 percent below the retail price and open a store, where low-income parents get to experience the same joy and pride of providing for their children as the rest of us.
Now in its 34th year, the store, which opened Dec. 9 at 1297 McDonough Blvd. SE, is stocked each year with thousands of donated toys, board games and sporting goods, including many of the same name brands found in big-box stores.
Tanisha Corporal, a 40-year-old single mother of a 14-year-old son, is among the tens of thousands of needy parents who have benefited from the effort, which has been replicated all over the country as charities have come to the same conclusion Lupton did.
Corporal has been shopping with Pride for Parents since 2009, when she moved into the South Atlanta neighborhood and saw postings about a planned opening that year.
“My son was 5 at the time, and it was a close place for me to get affordable toys for him,” Corporal said.
And having worked as a case manager at a faith-based nonprofit, she was intrigued with the concept.
“A lot of families I worked with couldn’t afford to purchase toys for their kids,” Corporal said.
But it wasn’t just that. She also knew that any money she spent at the store was funneled back into the FCS coffers and used to employ people and provide affordable housing and other programs in the neighborhood.
The agency employs some 25 people year-round and has developed over 150 units of affordable housing in this South Atlanta neighborhood alone.
In addition to providing affordable toys for her son, Corporal credits the nonprofit with helping her purchase her home.
Even though her son is older now and prefers electronic gifts not found at Pride for Parents, Corporal said she still shops there for nieces and nephews and often refers clients to the pop-up toy store.
“It’s a great program,” she said. “It made such a difference in my life, and it feels good knowing that just by shopping there, it’s having a ripple effect in the community. Some days they even have volunteers who wrap your presents. Anything that saves you money and time when you’re a single mom, I’m like goodness yes.”
Anyone interested in donating to the store’s wish list can access it on prideforparents.org and click on the Amazon wish list button. Donations also may also dropped off from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and noon-5 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 23.
To date, donations have come from all over the world.
“Sometimes we know who they come from. Sometimes we don’t,” Delp said. “Either way, we get well acquainted with the UPS carrier.”
For anyone interested in setting up their own store, there’s a little ebook for that available at prideforparents.org.
One of the unique things about the Pride for Parents store, Delp said, is many of its patrons are grandparents on a budget and the working poor who wouldn’t normally ask for help.
Although the mission is to assist the low-income families, Delp said there are people who shop there for the deals.
“Even if a few folk come in and work the system, it generates revenue that goes back in the community, so that’s never a bad thing,” she said. “We’d rather err on that side than ask people to prove their poverty.”
This time of year, we hear a lot about the Christmas story in which the three wise men traveled halfway across the world to bless the Christ child with gold, frankincense and myrrh.
It’s an uplifting story, but so too is FCS’. Compared to the gifts of the Magi, theirs might not seem like much, but for more than 30 years, they’ve been traveling the distance to bring the three gifts that in their estimation mean much more:
“A gift for a child at Christmas, a gift of dignity for a parent to provide for a child themselves and the gift of jobs for local residents.”
Tanisha Corporal thanks FCS for that and so do I.