By 8 a.m. Wednesday, about 600 people had lined up outside the Faith and Community Christmas Store in Lexington, which has offered new and gently used holiday gifts, primarily for children, for free for more than 15 years.
Many had been standing in line since 2:30 a.m. or earlier, said Ginny Ramsey, co-director of the Catholic Action Center, which manages the store as part of a joint effort involving many Lexington churches and businesses.
Last year, the store, which operates for three days before Christmas, served more than 3,800 needy families with a total of 15,414 children in the Lexington area, Ramsey said.
She said she thinks there will be a dramatic increase in those numbers this year.
"With the grace of God and the community, we can do it," she said.
The Christmas store was open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, and will be open the same hours Thursday and Friday. Hours could be extended Friday, depending on need and donations, Ramsey said.
Adults come to the store and get a free ticket that tells them what time they may shop. Shoppers don't have to show identification, and no questions are asked about financial status.
"If anyone's going to stand in line, as these folks do, for used and preloved gifts ... who's to question should they get it?" Ramsey said.
The only requirement is that the shoppers be adults.
"Only adults are allowed in the store. They're shopping for children," Ramsey said.
This year, the Christmas Store is being operated in a warehouse at Second Street and Midland Avenue owned by Lexington businessman Mike Scanlon. Scanlon uses the warehouse to store vintage cars. The cars have been moved to various locations and will be returned to the warehouse after the Christmas Store closes for another year.
A nearby building that once housed Fayette Heating & Air is being used as a hospitality and "preshopping" area, where shoppers may relax, pick up a few free gifts and have free refreshments while they wait their turn to do their shopping.
There is a limit of two gifts per child. With big-ticket items, such as bicycles, the rule is one per family.
A shopper also gets a bag of stocking stuffers and a game for his or her family.
Two "preshopping areas," the one in the former heating and air conditioning business and another in the warehouse, offer children's books, stuffed animals, Christmas decorations, coats and blankets. Christmas trees and wreaths are available outside.
"We've got a mall this year," Ramsey said. "It's kind of like a mall experience."
Ramsey said the Christmas Store needs donations. It especially needs toys for 8- to 12-year-olds of both sexes and items for teenage boys. The store is always short of bicycles and sporting goods, Ramsey said.
More volunteers also are needed, she said.
"It takes 120 volunteers a shift," she said.