Christmas Store makes seasons bright for middle school students
By Suzanne Dean
MONONI—“You mean I get all of these things for free!”
“I’m so happy. I’ll have a gift for everybody in my family this year.”
Those are typical comments from North Sanpete Middle School students who have participated in the school’s Christmas store, which marked its 17th year this year.
About 60 youngsters, selected out of a school population of a little over 400, were pulled out of class three at a time on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 15, 16 and 17 to “shop” for gifts for parents, siblings and themselves.
Students who the faculty and counselors judged to be the most needy were called out of class the first day so they would have the best selection, said Cindy Blackham a paraeducator who has been involved with the store for all 17 years.
Adults were on hand to help with shopping. For moms, the store had jewelry, lotion and kitchen items. For dads, youngsters could choose from tools, watches and gloves. For younger siblings, there were toys and stuffed animals.
As for the students themselves, “We try to make sure they have underwear, socks, a coat and clothes,” Blackham said. After they were outfitted, they could choose a gift from items such as games, puzzles, journals, art sets, footballs and basketballs.
About a dozen volunteer gift wrappers made sure the gifts went out of the store ready to go under the Christmas tree. Students were supplied with big shopping bags for carrying their gifts home.
This year, there was a bonus. The Sanpete Pantry added a bag of food, including some candy, to each child’s Christmas selections.
Faculty and staff at the middle school donate gift items throughout the year, says Anita Port, who retired a few months ago as school librarian. She was involved with the store all 17 years and helped get things ready for the store earlier this year.
Donations are stored in a room off the auditorium stage, Port explains. About October, faculty and staff volunteers inventory the room and make sure everything is acceptable for giving. That includes laundering slightly used coats and clothes.
“Some years, we have quite a bit, some not so much,” Port says.
Most years, students have been limited to one gift per family member, and aside from clothing items, one gift for themselves.
“If we have a lot, they can grab two,” Port says.
This was a good year. The student council supplemented items from the room on the stage by sponsoring a competition called “Coin Wars,” in which classes competed to drop the most coins of certain types, such as silver coins, in jars. That effort raised $700.
Principal Jeff Ericksen and JoAnne Christensen, a teacher and the student council advisor, accompanied student leaders to Walmart to buy gifts and clothes with the money.
Meanwhile, teachers and people in the community contributed another $700 in cash. Volunteers Ellen and Kristine Garff of Chester shopped for gifts at Walmart and Tractor Supply.
Then, after the store started operation, one boy came in who needed shoes. The store didn’t have any his size. So a mother who was volunteering went to Provo that night and bought shoes and clothes, not just for the boy, but for three other students.
The founder of the Christmas store was Kathryn Hansen, long-time English teacher at North Sanpete Middle School, who is now retired.
One year, she asked students to write about their family Christmas traditions. One student told her his family wasn’t having Christmas that year.
Hansen sent an email to the faculty and staff asking if they could donate gifts and wrapping paper. For the first couple of years, she ran the store in her classroom primarily for her own students.
After the store became a school-wide activity, it was generally held in the auditorium, Blackham says, although a few times, organizers had to use one of the larger classrooms while students who regularly met in the classroom used the library for a few days.
Besides Hansen, Port and Blackham, people who have played a key role in keeping the Christmas store tradition going include Linda Larsen, a paraeducator who has been involved all 17 years, and Sheree Baird, also a paraeducator, who has volunteered for about 10 years.
Port says one of her most memorable experiences of her years with the Christmas store was a boy who came in with shoes so tattered they were barely staying on his feet.
He selected gifts for his family members, looked longingly at the shoes, but said he didn’t think he should take them because they were the only shoes left in the store.
Port encouraged him to take the shoes. “No one else has wanted them. They’re just your size. I can put on the package, “To you from Santa.”
The boy decided to take the shoes, but said, “Do you have to put ‘From Santa?’” Can you just put, ‘From the best school ever?’”
Port said she and another volunteer helping out with the store looked at each other. “It was all I could do to keep from crying. He was so excited because he was at the best school ever. I know he meant it with all his heart.”