DEADWOOD — It holds all the excitement of getting on Christmas morning, combined with a lesson in giving. It’s the annual Lead-Deadwood Elementary School Santa Shop and organizers are in the thick of ramping up efforts to meet the demands pint-sized shoppers will soon make on their assortment of wares, Christmas shopping lists clutched in their little fists.
Santa Shop organizer Tracy Island has sort of driven Santa’s sleigh in this regard for the past few years.
“But it’s been going forever. I’d say 20 years or better,” Island said. “It’s a joy to watch. It’s a way that every single child, from preschool up through elementary, can shop for family members by themselves with nobody over their shoulder. It’s encouraging the joy of giving and because our community has so many on free and reduced lunches, there are a lot of kids that this is something they’re not normally able to do. This gives all those children in our community that opportunity. It’s very encouraging for the children to be doing that on their own and pick what they view as the perfect gift for an aunt, uncle, parent, and even in some cases, friends. When you’re young and everything else gets chosen for you, this is a way to have some control.”
But the fun could not go on year after year without sponsors that bridge the $4,000 gap the $10,000 event costs to create.
“Around $6,000 of the $10,000 is replenished by the money that comes in,” Island said. “We get back $6,000, but then we have to raise another $4,000 every year.”
Recently, Tom and Julie Koth of Madame Peacock’s donated $1,000 to the Santa Shop, something they’ve done three years in a row. Sarah Hannah from Sarah’s Hair Salon in Lead said the employees have been donating their tips.
“We think the Santa Shop is a very worthy cause. Every kid deserves to be able to give as well as receive gifts at Christmas,” Tom said. All tips from our bar at Madame Peacock’s are donated locally. So far the tip jar has resulted in over $25,000 given to causes chosen by our staff. We are honored to be a part of the Deadwood business community and feel it is our duty and our privilege to give back.”
Island said Wharf is another staunch supporter and that Saloon No. 10 has also been huge.
“We’ve got so many that have been supporters every year, including individuals that help us,” Island said. “It’s a big project. It takes a whole community and we’ve had that support, which is great.”
This year, Santa Shop gets underway Dec. 10-11 at the former Catholic School building across from KDSJ, where it’s been held for several years now.
Lead-Deadwood Elementary School Principal Tim Kosters said the Santa Shop provides an opportunity for the community to support the school’s students.
“Santa Shop volunteers dedicate countless hours shopping, wrapping and displaying gifts through the year. Purchasing items to restock the shelves immediately after Christmas is a constant focus for the dedicated group. Community volunteers also work with students to provide a shopping experience so that their Christmas gifts are a complete surprise,” Kosters said. “Every child in the school is able to purchase gifts for their family. The children take great pride in being able to pick out a gift for someone special in their lives. Parents often comment that their child’s thoughtfulness in choosing a particular gift for them is a favorite part of the holiday season. This is not a fundraising event for the PTO. The intent is to provide a positive holiday experience for everyone involved.”
Children go through the Santa Shop with an adult shopper helper, making their selections and bagging it all up to take home and put under the tree.
“We need about 20 volunteers per day for actually shopping,” Island said. “We really like to have one adult per child. They come with their class, then shop, then wrap, then back to class. It’s a lot to accomplish in 20 minutes.”
For those children who are unable to bring money, Santa Shop has them covered.
“We are able to sponsor every single child with $10,” Island said. “Gifts range in price from $1 to $5, so they can get something really extraordinary and easily buy a number of gifts with very little money. We only pitch in for children who are unable to bring their own money. Some kids even save up and bring their own money.”
In order to populate the tables, racks and other displays of Christmas finery for kid purchases, there are two main Santa Shop shoppers who are on duty, year-round and wrappers pre-wrap pretty much every month of the year.
“We buy wholesale, shop a lot of after-Christmas sales, find things when we’re out and about, buy on the Internet. We have to be pretty diligent,” Island said. “To find something for a guy for $5 or less that is high quality is tough. People have been helping wrap for months. Even though it lasts only a few days, it is a year-long project and we’ve started organizing already.”
With her own son firmly entrenched in high school, why does Island continue to head up Santa Shop?
“It’s really thriving, and we’ve built it up to such an amazing degree,” she said. “We have a really great system with the group we’ve got. It just runs and I hate to walk off and feel like it might not continue. Someday, I’ll need to step away, though, and I hope somebody steps up to take over. I would like to see it continue to go. As long as I’m in town, though, I feel it’s a great thing for the community and for kids. It’s fun all the way around. It’s fun to buy, unpack, put away, wrap. It’s selfish. It brings me a lot of joy. I’ve also made some great friends and built great relationships through this program. That’s huge for me.”
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