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Kids flock to 4-H Shop with Santa event

Kids flock to 4-H Shop with Santa event
Joni Hubred, News Editor

Years ago, Tracy Ignaszewski was a young 4-Her who looked forward to the group’s annual “Shop with Santa” event, hosted by the 10 clubs in Steele County.

“The thing I remember is you knew when Shop with Santa was on the first Saturday (in December),” she said. “You always made sure that Saturday was open.”

Now a 4-H program educator, Ignaszewski was among the adult volunteers who helped organize and run this year’s event held Dec. 3 at St. John Lutheran Church in Owatonna. Chair Sandy Jirele said she doesn’t know how long kids have had the chance to shop in secret for their family members, but it has been around for at least 30 years.

While parents sat on chairs set up just outside, kids shopped tables in the church’s social hall with the help of older 4-H members. Items for sale range from 50 cents to $5; all are handmade by 4-H members.

Before they walk in, parents fill out a form that includes names of recipients and the child’s total budget. Money goes into an envelope, and kids are then paired with a shopper to pick out gifts.

There’s a running tally on the sheet that adults at each table fill out, to ensure kids don’t overspend, Jirele said.

Once the shopping is done, more 4-Hers wait at long tables to wrap and tag.

Security remains tight to ensure that parents don’t get a look inside the hall–not even a peek.

“We tell kids it’s a secret until Christmas morning,” Jirele said.

But not every kid wants to keep their secrets.

“Some of them are sharing the minute they walk out the door,” Ignaszewski said.

The little shoppers, all ages 4 through sixth grade, carry lists that vary in size.

“You might have a child who buys for two people, and then you have my grandson, who walks out with 20 gifts,” Jirele said.

To ensure the selection stays as fresh for the first shoppers as for the last, volunteers hold back some items to replenish tables as the morning progresses. Jirele said they’ve never run out of gifts, and usually pack up some for other events during the year.

Hundreds of kids passed through this year’s event. Jirele said the first shoppers showed up in the parking lot at 3:10 a.m. Dozens of shopping bags were distributed within the first 15 minutes.

On the committee for 32 years, Jirele said what keeps her coming back are the smiles on kids’ faces. They have fun going through all the tables and can take as much time as they need.

“One little boy shopped for an hour and a half,” Jirele said. “We don’t push them.”

That makes patience an important quality for the older 4-Hers who help them through that process.

Those young volunteers, Jirele said, “are instrumental. They stay with that person, and then they take them back out to their parents.”

Funds collected from the Shop with Santa event go toward programs, camps, workshops, and special events, as well 4-H’s involvement in the Steele County Fair. It also supports the 4-H Ambassadors program for older kids, and the Cloverbuds pre-4-H program.

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