BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Hadley Hutt found the perfect gift for her 2-year-old brother Carson: a Cars-themed poster with a set of pens.
The Waterville second-grader had some help from grown-up Nancy Eberly, who like many of the adult volunteers was sporting a holiday-themed sweater and a smile as she guided kids to tables set up for the annual Secret Santa gift sale.
Secret Santa is a holiday tradition for the three Anthony Wayne primary schools. For students, it’s an opportunity to experience the joy of giving, by choosing gifts for moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandparents, pets and teachers.
“We did this when I was in grade school, but now the gifts are better,” said Lauren Rieman, who is chair of this year’s Whitehouse event.
Early in the school year, parents club volunteers get gift ideas from the students, teachers and staff. Always popular are foam footballs, slime, silly string, Matchbox cars, nail polish, fuzzy socks, jewelry and tape measures. Generals-themed water bottles, magnets and pens are also in demand. The merchandise was ordered early this year to avoid shipping delays.
Waterville Secret Santa chair Stacey Brown said this year’s big hits are unicorn picture frames, necklaces and ornaments, as well as pet toys.
Several Waterville parents designed and made gifts, as well. Amanda Lovejoy and Candice Lagger made paintings, masks, cups, hot cocoa mixes and wine bottles with lights.
“We didn’t drink all this wine,” Lagger said with a laugh. “I put the word out in my neighborhood (Coventry Glen) and people kept dropping them off.”
Jennifer Hoelzer, volunteering at the pet table at Waterville Primary, watched as Henrik Morris chose a cat toy for his feline friend Theodore. The table featured handmade tug toys and treats for dogs, play toys for cats and even escargot shells that can go into fish or turtle tanks.
Parents club leaders from the three schools met this summer to share ideas, said Monclova chair Monica Gregory. While each school has its own pricing structure – at Monclova everything is $1.00 while other schools have a range of prices – every school has funds pooled for children who cannot afford to shop or who pick out something above their budget.
“We’re not strict if parents send $10.00 and kids go over the budget. Kids can purchase the gift they think will make a family member happiest,” Rieman said.
While parent helpers walk students through the shopping experience, it’s really the child’s decision – and that makes the gift even more special, Brown said.
“A lot of times, it’s Mom or Dad guiding you in the right direction. At the Secret Santa Shop, it’s whatever the kids think. And they’re putting a lot of thought into it,” Rieman said.
During the last Secret Santa event, her son picked out a Michigan football for her husband and a snowman cup for her.
“He was so excited to give that cup to me. I use it every day,” Rieman said. “And my husband throws that squishy football whenever he’s frustrated with Michigan.”
The intensive, all-day event takes dozens of volunteers to guide students, staff tables and wrap gifts. For parents of fourth-graders, it’s a last chance to get into the school and help out – especially after a year of not being able to host events or help out in the building, Gregory noted.
“It’s like seeing an animal in the wild to see kid at school,” she joked.
For the young shoppers, the Secret Santa Shop puts them into the holiday spirit and thinking of their loved ones.
Beckett Bigelow, a second-grader at Monclova Primary School, remembers exactly what he gave his dad a few years ago: a basketball.
“He liked it,” Beckett said, as he toured the tables for another perfect gift for Dad.