Debbie Dowdin wanted to do things a little differently this holiday season.
In years previous, she and band of volunteers would get together, wrap donated presents and then deliver them to families in need. But, it dawned on her that the parents were being bypassed in the process of her doing a good deed.
"Last year, I went, 'You know what? These kids should think these gifts are coming from their parents not a stranger,'" she said. " I don't need to go to their house."
Dowdin, the founder of Christian nonprofit Place of Seven Springs, said she thought long and hard about the exact plan, and rose one morning at 1 a.m. going through ideas of how to put the gift event together.
"I thought I had been writing for 20 minutes," she said. " I look at the clock, and it's 3:30 in the morning, and I said, 'Lord, can we turn this off for a while please because I'm really tired.'"
Last weekend, she put her vision to work holding the special event for about 60 families and more than 130 children. It was held in a space just steps away from her nonprofit. Families who receive assistance through her organization, as well as Southeast Gwinnett Cooperative Ministry were invited.
If families could, they paid $2 as entry into the gift center. That money, however, also will work its way back to the community in the way of heat assistance, gas cards and the like, Dowdin said.
"It's really a matter of dignity for the parents and a healthy sense of pride that they have for providing for their children," she said.
About a dozen volunteers, some from local churches and neighborhoods were there to greet the parents and assist them in their search for Christmas presents. Before the parents came through the doors, the group prayed.
"That is Jesus walking in the door for us Lord," Dowdin said as she led the group in prayer.
Scott Zanardo, a Lawrenceville resident and member of Grace Fellowship Church, came with some other church friends to help out. He thought it was especially nice that the families could feel a sense of pride for paying something toward the gifts, if they could.
"It's just a part of who we are as a follower of Jesus, trying to give back to people, to enable people," he said.
In addition to presents, families also received food and a loaf a bread with a special blessing attached. There was also a place to wrap the gifts before the families headed home.
Autumn Woods, a Snellville mother of four children, was one of the parents who came the event. Without it, she said, things would definitely have been different at home on Christmas morning.
"Things would have been tight," she said. "It would have been tough."
Her bill from Walton EMC was "through the roof" after the summer when her children were home during the day. She got behind, but was able to get some assistance from a local nonprofit.
A few days later they called to ask her if she would be interested in the gift event.
"I said, 'Of course I'd be interested,'" she said.
She has one child about to graduate high school, she's in nursing school full-time, she works part-time and doesn't get much child support, Woods said. So, it was nice to have a chance to do something positive for her family on Christmas.
Brina Hodges, a recently divorced mother with five children, was also thankful for Place of Seven Springs organizing the event.
The reason was simple: "Being able to unwrap something for Christmas."
Until she was notified about the event, Hodges had not planned on putting up a Christmas tree. That's changed.
"I didn't want them to be disappointed to have a tree and no gifts," said the Snellville resident. "Now, I think I'll put up a little decorations for them."