Making a list, checking it twice
Last Saturday, area kids were able to get in some early Christmas shopping without parents snooping at their presents during the annual Shop with Santa event.
The event, organized and put on by Steele County 4-H, has been held for 30 years and shows no sign of slowing down. This year, kids were able to peruse a variety of items and pick out the perfect gifts for their family and friends at St. John Lutheran Church in Owatonna.
“All of the gifts are homemade gifts that each 4-H family is asked to make,” 4-H Program Coordinator Tracy Ignaszewski explained. “Each family is asked to make eight items per 4-Her, and so they bring the items and donate them.”
Not only do the 4-Hers donate the gifts, but they also help each young shopper find the right present for those on their list. “This year we were up on gifts that have been donated, about 2,700 items came in,” Ignaszewski said.
“It’s open to any youth from 4 years old to sixth grade,” she explained. “They don’t bring parents in to shop, and they’re assigned a youth 4-H helper and then they get to go around and do all the shopping themselves.”
The event is a great way to give back to 4-H, but also a great way for kids to find that special something for someone on their Christmas list. “They have their gift list and their gift tags and they get everything wrapped here and a name put on and when they leave, they have presents ready under the tree,” Ignaszewski said.
Each shopper gets to choose from a variety of homemade gifts priced from 50 cents to $5. “Some of these gifts, if you went to a craft show as an adult, you could probably pay $15 for,” Sandy Jirele, who helps organize the event each year, said of the array of possible presents. “All the stuff is donated and handmade.”
Proceeds from the event support youth programming in Steele County.
“With 4-H, community service is one of our big pushes and every club has to build in community service, and this is kind of our county-wide community service,” Ignaszewski said of the event. “Everybody in the entire county participates in it, and we have around 60 workers who come here to work and help put it on.”
The event is organized and coordinated by a passionate committee who looks forward to seeing the joy that they bring each year. “Some people on the committee don’t have kids in 4-H anymore,” Jirele said. “I have grandkids in 4-H now and it’s just a very fun event.”
“I would say that it’s probably one of the highlights of 4-H,” Ignaszewski said. “They look forward to it, and they come and they have a good time doing it, and it’s the payback. It’s not only for them but for all of us. It’s fun to see that bond between the 4-Hers and the shopper.”
With some holiday music playing on the piano, and shoppers circling the homemade wares, the event filled one’s heart with warmth for the holidays. “It’s looking at the child as they’re waiting to have the gift wrapped and they have smiles on their face and the satisfaction that they’ve done the shopping on their own, and mom and dad don’t know what’s in there, and that’s the best part,” Jirele said.
Although the kids are told to keep their gifts a secret, sometimes the excitement for the Christmas unwrapping is overwhelming. “We tell them, now don’t tell mom and dad, wait until they open it,” Jirele explained. “Of course, sometimes they’ll come running out and tell their parents exactly what they got them, and it’s fun to see that and know that excitement. We enjoy it and that’s why we’re here!”