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Churches sell gift cards to help needy families

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)—If you are buying gift cards for others as holiday presents this season, local churches have a bargain they want you to consider.

A gift card to a restaurant, gas station or discount store makes shopping easy for customers like Leslie Bell.

“I don’t go out on Black Friday, so I will be purchasing gift cards for the holidays,” Bell said.

This year there’s a new twist to the way Bell is giving. She’ll take part in the Scrip program at St. Paul’s Baptist Church.

Through a church program, she and others can buy gift cards to more than 800 retailers through her church. When gift cards are purchased this way, the church gets money back from places like Target, Wawa, Best Buy, restaurants and more.

Ron Miller is a Volunteer Coordinator for the Scrips Program at St. Paul’s.  He says the church gets a percentage back from each retailer. The customer doesn’t have to spend any extra money or pay any extra fees, but others get a big return.

“If I take Longhorn’s Steak house, for example, they give us back 9 percent,” Miller said. “It just varies according to the vendor, but during the holidays some companies give as much as 20 percent.”

That money goes straight to St. Paul’s emergency assistance fund to help families in need pay electricity bills, rent or to put food on their tables.

Denise Thomas-Brown is the outreach team leader for the church.  “It has allowed us to help families when the money we collect in church runs out,” she said. “The Scrip program is a win-win for the purchaser, the recipient and the families here that we help.”

Churchgoers can purchase the cards at a special kiosk set up at St. Paul’s during Sunday services. If they order by Sunday night, they can receive the gift cards a few days later.

Thomas-Brown also says there’s a way customers can purchase the cards online. For more information, contact St. Paul’s Baptist Church at 804-643-4000.

CBS 6 News learned that other churches in the area also participate in the Scrip program, including Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Glen Allen.

Officials there say they’ve had the program in place for about seven years. Both churches said they promote the program during the holiday season when people have gift-giving on their minds.

However, they also say the program is available year round to anyone who wants to make a purchase.