A giving tradition in North Minneapolis since the 1960s


Christmas can be a tough time for low-income families, as pervasive and rampant consumerism and the expectations of getting and giving presents exert extra pressures. Children, especially, do not have the money to buy presents for their family members. In North Minneapolis, Plymouth Christian Youth Center (PCYC) helps low-income children to experience the joy of giving to others and to feel included in the American tradition of giving holiday presents. 

Since the mid-1960s, PCYC has put on what it calls the Gift Sale to allow low-income children a chance to select gifts for people on their Christmas list.  Parents purchase a one-dollar ticket ahead of the annual Gift Sale event – December 14 this year. Then each child gets to choose five gifts for their loved ones. 

Many North Minneapolis children remember the Gift Sale experience fondly. 

Third grader Henry Peters said, “I know my grandma likes nice soaps and stuff and she really liked the soap packs I picked for her.  Also, my dad was surprised that I presented him with three flashlights!” 

Second graders Maleek Powell and Austyn Doughty are excited about the upcoming Gift Sale.  Each child wants to choose gifts for at least four loved ones.  Powell said sheepishly that he chose a present for himself the first time he took part in PCYC’s Gift Sale. 

Fourth grader Jada Smith said she wants to pick a gift for a favorite cousin this year, which will be her fifth gift selection experience. 

Maleek Powell (left) and Austyn Doughty, second grade, PCYC Afterschool Education Program. (Photo by Lee-Hoon Benson)

Asked if they have any advice for children who are joining PCYC’s Gift Sale for the first time, all four students said the Gift Sale is to choose presents for others.   Peters suggested that, “it is good to think carefully about what people will like and take time to choose the nicest gift.”

Jada Smith, fourth grade, PCYC Afterschool Education Program (Photo by Lee-Hoon Benson)

Adult residents of North Minneapolis also remember how the Gift Sale has helped them in the past.  Long-time resident, Charlotte Williams, said “my older set of kids chose gifts for family members in the early 1990’s and now my younger ones will be shopping this Saturday.  It’s hard to buy presents when my situation is bad this year.  Without this Gift Sale, my kids would not have presents.” 

The success of the Gift Sale is built on donations of goods from PCYC’s supporters and the community at large.  Each year, PCYC has to secure about 6,000 articles that are suitable for toddlers, young boys and girls, older children, adult women and men.  Additionally, many volunteers are also needed to sort and package these donated gifts to get them ready for display on the Gift Sale day. 

Jean Schwartz, long time PCYC volunteer, with some presents that she is getting ready for the Gift Sale on Saturday, December 14. (Photo by Lee-Hoon Benson)

Jean Schwartz, with her energetic organizing talents, is at the heart of the event’s preparations and success.  As former PCYC board member and retired special education teacher, Schwartz has volunteered to organize the Gift Sale since the early 1970s.  She continues volunteering because she “enjoys watching the joy and the way their eyes light up when the kids know they have picked the best present for their moms or grandma.” 

Schwartz was a bundle of energy on December 9, while directing other volunteers in sorting out donated goods.  Schwartz noted that the donations are fewer than previous years.  She said she hoped that many more people will donate money or drop off new goods by Friday to help make this year’s Gift Sale a joyful one for the children. 

For details about PCYC’s Gift Sale and how you can support it, call 612-643-2000.