By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — Christmas was on full display at the Senior Center Saturday morning, Dec. 11. Rows of tables were lined with sparking Christmas gifts, and many people were seen plucking those presents off the tables as a background of holiday music drifted from a nearby Christmas tree. A second glance reveals that the shoppers are all children, however, and with the help of their special “elves,” they were shopping for their families themselves in Newkirk Main Street’s (NMS) Children’s Christmas Shop.
The event has been held more than 20 years, the second Saturday of December. Numbers seemed down last year, but it didn’t look that way this year.
“The kids seemed happy to shop. They are really excited about getting to choose their own gifts,” said NMS Board President Holly Cline. “There were a lot of things from local vendors we didn’t have before.”
Children’s Christmas Shop was created to offer children a place to shop for Christmas locally, without their parents present.
“It is a controlled market, a safe place you can drop them off, and they can shop with an elf to pick out gifts for their friends and family,” Cline said. “The gifts are wrapped and ready to put under the Christmas tree.”
The event began at 10 that morning, and as soon as they signed in, the kids were greeted by their “elf” to go shopping, while parents left their name and phone number to be notified when they were ready to be picked up. The elves took over to guide the kids in picking out the perfect gift.
It is not as easy as simply taking the kids around the room.
“The elf finds out how many people they are buying for, and how much money they are able to spend,” said Sue Roy, who served as an elf that afternoon. “They can tell you about the person, and we also ask how old the person is, which directs us toward an area with items someone that age would be interested in.”
Each table was lined with items from individual Newkirk vendors, some of which included Carolyn Kahle’s Then and Now, Grit and Grace Outdoors and Finders Keepers Antiques. Other non-business vendors also had items for sale to the kids, including NMS and Karen Deakins, who has maintained a presence for many years. Deakins had a hair salon for more than 30 years, but has always found unique items for the kids on her own.
“I find the items when I travel. People want things they don’t offer in Newkirk,” Deakins said. “I do this because of variety. I’m always looking for things, and I charge what I pay. I just want to make sure the kids have something.”
All items are in dollar increments, making the math easier, and items are priced from $1 – $15. Once they finish choosing their gifts and have paid for them, they move on to have the gifts wrapped before leaving. Each item is charged per vendor, and cashiers add everything per vender once the last child exits the door.
The gifts are placed in boxes, each with a gift tag identifying the recipient.
“The boxes are pre-wrapped, with tissues and bows, and after the kids make their purchases, they box them, according to the gifts,” said Debbie Leaming, who was one of several adult volunteers with the gift wrapping, along with Deakins.
Several students from Newkirk High School organizations helped with the wrapping, including Culture Club in the morning and Stepp-Up (Students Encouraging Peers Positively Up) in the afternoon.
Once the gifts were wrapped, the kids had a waiting area for the return of their parents, where they could relax and color Christmas sheets.
An Adult Christmas Shop was held Sunday from noon – 2 p.m., although no gift wrapping was available.
The event was considered a huge success for 2021.
“I thought it went fabulous. I’ve never been more happy with the Christmas Shop,” Deakins said.
Set up of the event starts at 1 p.m. the Friday before, with a flurry of activity to prepare the tables and gifts for the kids. Many volunteers are needed simply for the opening process.
“I help set up all the tables, and once we get it set up, the vendors come in and set up,” Deakins said.
Planning and organization begins long before Friday, however. Deakins looks for gifts early in the year for the next Christmas Shop, taking advantage of after-Christmas sales. She also begins wrapping the boxes at home, a pastime she has fallen in love with.
“I save boxes with lids, and I wrap all year long. I have a huge garage to put my boxes in,” Deakins said.
Deakins is hardly alone in volunteering to support the event and the larger community. In addition to Culture Club and Stepp-Up, several Newkirk Go-Getters 4-H members served as elves.
“The Christmas Shop is one of my favorite programs because we get to help little kids find gifts for their loved ones,” said Go-Getter Sami DeCosta.
If volunteerism is about support to the community, many have their own views on why to support Newkirk.
“Volunteering is a way to give back to our community selflessly, and shopping with little ones is so much fun,” Go-Getter Charli Evans said.
Aiyannah LeClair wrapped presents with Stepp-Up, and sees it as not only supporting the kids, but everyone.
“Helping these kids, is helping the community,” she said.
Stepp-Up member Cami Coppenger saw volunteerism as a way to promote both Stepp-Upp and NMS.
“It puts Stepp-Up out in the community,” she said.
Advisor Lori Mayden is proud of the efforts of her students.
“This is a new life skill, in volunteering, and it teaches them how to give time to others,” Mayden said.
Culture Club students had their own experiences.
“It went well, there were lots of kids, and everyone pitched in to make it successful,” Samantha Simpson said.
It was also noticed that the kids themselves were watching the students, learning valuable lessons at the same time.
“It helps them learn that giving time for others is good,” Krissa Jones said.
Those who learned the most, however, were the kids themselves, who took away many life skills they can use later in life, even if they didn’t realize it.
“They learn about budgeting, thoughtfulness for other people; thinking about others more than themselves,” Cline said.