- Associated Press - Sunday, November 12, 2017

COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Elizabeth Brand knows what it’s like being stretched thin.

So thin, in fact, during the holidays it would appear her finances are barely visible.

Caring for 10 children, between ages 3 months to 18 years, the Brand family wouldn’t know what to do during Christmas if it was not for the Christmas Store.

“Honestly, the Christmas Store means everything to us,” Brand said. “And all those at Be Concerned mean everything. They are such awesome people. They make our lives easier and shopping at the Christmas Store really helps a lot.”

The Christmas Store is operated by Be Concerned, a nonprofit that has operated one of the largest free food pantries in Northern Kentucky since 1987.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the store that provides free food, hygiene items and cleaning supplies. For just $3 per household, the Christmas Store offers various houseware gifts, including small appliances like toasters and electric can openers. For $3 per child, capped at $15, parents can also shop for a variety of toys and winter clothing for their children.

“When the Christmas Store was first opened, the idea was to provide help to those in need, while respecting their dignity,” said Paul Gottbrath, Be Concerned development director.

“That way people can say, ‘These weren’t given to us for our kids, but we bought these gifts for our kids.’”

Gottbrath, who has worked with Be Concerned in various roles the last 18 years, said although a minimal fee is required, no family is turned away if it’s unable to pay.

“We find ways to work around that,” he said.

The schedule for the store is full, but Be Concerned is taking people for a supplemental program that will operate after Dec. 16. Those interested should call 859-291-6789 for details. This year, the store is expected to benefit 700 to 800 low-income families from Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties.

Shoppers include those who are seniors, disabled, single parents and working poor - families whose breadwinners don’t work enough hours or at sufficient enough wage to cover all their needs, Gottbrath said.

“In many cases, the gifts the store provides will be the only Christmas many of these families have,” he said.

The Christmas Store first opened its doors in 1967, under the direction of Sister of Charity Donna Kinney under auspices of Catholic Social Services of Northern Kentucky (now known as Catholic Charities, Diocese of Covington). The plan was to gather collections for food baskets to give to families in need. Kinney took it one step further - rather than just giving baskets away, she proposed to offer toys and clothing for a nominal fee.

“She wanted to be more sensitive to those we were helping and preserve their dignity,” Gottbrath said. “That sentiment lives on, as our volunteers for the Christmas Store and Be Concerned emphasize not just what we give, but how we give. We give with a smile, an encouraging word and we give without judgment. We just want to help.”

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Information from: The Kentucky Enquirer, http://www.nky.com

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