38: Santa’s Secret Shop

38: Santa’s Secret Shop

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

Santa’s Secret Shop

We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.

~Stacia Tauscher

December 8th through December 12th. That’s what I read pulling out the reminder card as I retrieved my mail one cold, blustery day before Thanksgiving. “Time for Santa’s Secret Shop again and volunteers are desperately needed! A home-cooked lunch will be provided each day for the volunteers.”

“Has it been a year already?” I asked myself as I quickly scurried back into the house. “Do these kids really care about Santa’s Secret Shop?”

Ever since I retired, my days were filled as a volunteer reading-tutor, helping out with school events, running errands for people, taking people to appointments and babysitting. I didn’t realize how often people needed help. I glanced at the card once again to check the dates on my calendar. I had nothing listed for a couple of those days. I could do it again. But why did I always choose to help out during the busiest times of the year? There were so many other things I could be doing to prepare for the holidays. I hadn’t started my shopping or my baking. But there I was, scheduling time to help someone else. I felt a bit like Scrooge — I didn’t want to do it, but I knew I would feel guilty if I said no.

The day arrived for me to show up at the elementary school and help with Santa’s Secret Shop. There were a variety of jobs waiting for the volunteers, from cashiers and gift wrappers to helpers assisting students choosing gifts for each family member or helping them count their money. Within the first hour, I couldn’t help but share in the kids’ excitement. They made the place come alive. They made it as magical as the North Pole!

I helped kids carefully count their money to make sure they had enough money to purchase the gifts they painstakingly chose for each member of their families. Even the family dog was included! Lots of time and love went into their thoughtful decisions.

No matter what job I had at Santa’s Secret Shop, I always enjoyed myself and the lessons the kids taught me about giving. It wasn’t the cost of the gift, but rather the love that went into choosing it. It didn’t matter to them that they spent ninety-eight cents on a potholder for Mom and four dollars on a flashlight for Dad: They knew in their hearts that they were choosing gifts they felt their loved ones could use.

I wished I could be more like that. Every year I try to even out the number of presents for everyone and the amount I spend. That detracts from the joy of giving. Another lesson I learned from these kids is that they can always find everything they need right there in that shop. There’s no running around from store to store trying to comparison shop or going on endless searches just to pick out the right toy or sweater. These kids always found something for everyone on their lists right there in that school gymnasium.

The most important lesson I learned was from a little boy when school was canceled due to snow one year. This little boy was so disappointed he called the Santa’s Secret Shop coordinator in desperation. He begged her to open the shop so he could buy his dying grandfather a gift. He could have gone to any dollar store or some other place that carried inexpensive items, but he wanted to purchase something he had seen at Santa’s Shop the day before on Preview Day — the day all the kids come down, one class at a time, to write down the names and prices of the items they wish to purchase. The coordinator knew she had to find a way to that rural school, regardless of the road conditions, and open that shop for him.

The boy and his parents met her in the unplowed parking lot. Once inside, he went right to the gift he wanted and then asked her to wrap it. He and his parents went straight to the hospital. The boy proudly gave his grandfather the gift and even helped him open it. The grandfather held it in his hands and died shortly thereafter. He was buried with his Santa’s Secret Shop gift.

Why do I volunteer? It’s the lessons like these I would have never learned had I not been a volunteer. It’s the yearly reminders of the true joy of giving. Above all, it’s what Santa’s Secret Shop means in the eyes of a child.

~KoAnn Rutter

More stories from our partners