ELLINWOOD -- Andrea Birzer, Ellinwood Grade School teacher and organizer of the school’s annual Santa’s Workshop, was in high spirits Monday morning as she greeted groups of students entering the school’s gymnasium at intervals prepared to do some Christmas “shopping.”
Beginning Friday afternoon, volunteers began setting up so all would be ready to go Monday morning.
“We spend Saturday and Sunday setting up,” she said. “Saturday is filled with a lot of hands,” she said. “We use our high school girls basketball team. They do a lot of work for us. They sort all of the items and set up tables.”
Monday morning, community volunteers and paras arrived early and prepared to greet students. The hallway to the gym was decorated with hanging lights and as classes of students arrived, they entered a space transformed from gym to shopping center complete with holiday music, with several tables laid with gifts sorted by type, gender, and age. Wrapping stations were assembled and stations for card-making awaited.
“Kiddos are coming in today with the mission of choosing a gift item for a loved one,” Birzer said.
One or two classes at a time were admitted, and half the students stopped at the craft tables to create a one-of-a-kind card. Meanwhile, the other group met volunteers who helped them shop. They talked about who they were going to get a gift for, and what that person might like. Mom’s and dad’s grandparents and siblings, and sometimes other important family members or caregivers were named. Adults were also there to guide them and help discourage them from getting something for themselves, she said. It was hard for some of the kids because there were many appealing items, especially toys and games. Once the group had made their choices, they moved onto the wrapping station.
“This is our opportunity to allow kids to experience the giving season rather than the receiving end of it,” Birzer said. “It’s fun to see their eyes light up when they find the right item and for them to go home with something to kind of experience the season the right way.”
More volunteers were on hand to help students choose boxes or bags for their gifts. They chose wrapping paper and trimmings and adults carefully packaged and wrapped the gifts as the children waited patiently for their turn.
Teachers showed students where to set their gifts, and then it was time to create that special card while the other group shopped. Over the course of one class period, the experience was complete, and each student left with their gift to bring home for the upcoming holidays.
Birzer said the district spreads the word in October, and momentum really picks up around Thanksgiving. Donations include gently used items most would consider for garage sales, and some bring in new items still in sales packaging.
Wrapping paper, tape, bows and ribbons, tissue and gift bags are all donated too. By the end of the day, there are usually still several items left, and some are held over until the next year. However, storage space is tight.
“We have a very kind parent who is willing to load up his truck with all of our leftover items and take it to Goodwill,” Birzer said. “We're very thankful for him.”
Each year, organizers learn a little more and the annual event is becoming increasingly easier and better, Birzer said.
“We're very fortunate to have such a great community that's willing to just pour so much into our kids,”she said.