By Leah Anderson Reed
Minister with Community, First Baptist-Raleigh
In 1980, First Baptist Church in Raleigh started what would become a foundational ministry in its downtown neighborhood. After seeing so much need from the community at the church’s doorstep, a small group of congregants began a clothing closet in the sanctuary’s empty basement.
Other congregants started cleaning out their closets, bringing items that no longer fit or that they didn’t want anymore. The word spread and the community began to do the same, growing the Clothing Ministry into a fully operational thrift store where everything is free.
Guests shop for clothing, take what they need and come as often as they’d like. As the Clothing Ministry grew, congregants listened to the need from the community once again and heard from parents that were struggling to provide Christmas presents for their children.
During the Christmas season in 2003, the volunteers in the Clothing Ministry set up two tables with a few donated toys, gifts and batteries so guests could also shop for gifts for their children. The years went by and what was once two small tables in the Clothing Ministry developed into the biggest event First Baptist-Raleigh holds each year: Toy Joy!
Today, Toy Joy now serves over 300 families and approximately 900 children in Wake County.
The preparation for this event is a true intergenerational, community-wide effort for all groups within the congregation. Children’s mission groups, youth groups, WMU, the Japanese congregation, volunteers of all ages and also now some neighbors, co-workers and friends of members participate each year.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the planning team embraced flexibility and innovation, reimagining Toy Joy in a way that would keep guests and volunteers as safe as possible. The group came up with an online shopping system where guests shopped virtually and participated in a drive-thru, no-contact pickup for their children’s Christmas gifts.
Guests came to the parking lot to pick up their gift packages which included: a gift, book and stuffed animal for each child based on their interests and ages (specified by their parent); a family game or puzzle; a bag with candy canes and gift wrapping supplies; and a special bag with a knitted prayer square, a Christmas card from the children of our church and a $30 Food Lion gift card.
That way of shopping continued at this year’s event on November 13-14, spreading joy to the downtown Raleigh community one Christmas gift at a time.
This ministry continues to thrive because of the commitment and year-round preparation from the congregation, embracing a model of generosity that provides tangible hope to their neighbors in need.
Enjoy this slideshow from Toy Joy 2020!