GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – For James Cross, gift giving is more complicated than going online or heading to the mall.

After buying food and paying the rent, his job as a tow truck driver doesn’t afford many extras.

But he was able to make a special shopping trip Wednesday to the annual Heartside Christmas Store event.

“I’m low income and this actually helps me out getting gifts for my family, my friends,” said Cross as he shopped with one of the volunteer helpers, his mother Karen Petchauer.

“I started volunteering with Dégagé when I was homeless, and I’ve just been paying back since I got my own place,” said Petchauer.

This year marks the ninth year LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Dégagé Ministries and Mel Trotter Ministries are hosting the store.

“So far, anyone that I see that have come in today has not shopped for themselves,” said Dégagé Ministries’ Nelson Koon. “They’re buying for kids, nephews, grandkids. And we have had a few parents come in with kids as well.

“At the core of this store and this event is this idea that everybody deserves dignity and respect. And everybody should be able to be a blessing to their loved ones. And this empowers them to do that.”

The event was made possible by donations from throughout the community. All the clothing, toys, appliances and other merchandise were new. All items were priced at $5 or less.

Shoppers say the event is about more than putting presents under the tree.

“It’s people caring about the community. It’s giving back to the community,” said Cross. “It’s not about the gifts. It’s about the joy. It’s giving.”