A Gift from School

When I offered to help out for a few hours at the “Holiday Gift Sale” at Jennifer’s elementary school last Thursday, I didn’t have any expectations that it would be anything special. I figured it would be like other times when I’ve volunteered in the classroom: an opportunity to help out her teacher and get a better understanding of the classroom dynamics. But that day, I got a lot more than I gave; when I left the school, I was filled with the Christmas spirit.

Let me back up a little and explain how the “Holiday Gift Sale” works. It is a fundraising project for the sixth grade’s week-long stay at an outdoor school. For several weeks, notes are sent home with students asking for donations of new or almost new items that can be regifted. The items that are brought in are priced in the twenty-five cent to two dollar range and laid out on tables in the multi-use room. On the day of the sale, each class has a designated time to shop at the sale. Every student can buy as many as five items for family and friends; they are told not to buy anything for themselves.

When I got to school on Thursday, Jennifer’s teacher and classmates had already worked hard setting out all the donated items and organizing them by price. There were eight 12-foot long tables crammed with the kind of stuff that collects in the backs of cabinets and the bottoms of toy bins. Bric-a-brac, knickknacks, candles, coasters, big stuffed animals, Beanie Babies, games, puzzles, Barbies and Hot Wheels, hamster mazes, dish towel sets, jewelry, scarves, perfume and books.

Students in the sixth grade class who had turned in all their homework earned the privilege of working a shift at the sale as “shopping assistants” ““ who would accompany younger students and keep track of their purchases ““ or as gift wrappers or as cashier.

I’ve thought a lot about what made this day different than just a rummage sale to raise a few dollars for a field trip. Why was it such a fulfilling and rejuvenating experience? I think it’s because the whole day was about kids’ giving and serving.

Usually at school, all the giving is done by the teachers. When a child arrives in the morning they sit at their desks waiting to be fed information or instructions. As the day progresses, they depend on the teacher to resolve problems, or answer questions, or just give them some attention. It’s amazing to me that teachers have the energy to walk to their cars after attending to a classroom of 30 needy students.

But when the students walked into the multi-use room, they weren’t thinking about what they needed to get for themselves, they were focused on what they could buy with their quarters for their mom or dad, or siblings, or grandparents. It warmed my heart when one of the boys hid a stuffed dinosaur under his arm so it could be wrapped quickly before his friend whom he was buying it for, saw it. And many of the kids picked out a gift for their teacher and then came up to the front to ask how to spell the teacher’s name for the gift tag.

And the sixth grade students who were working at the sale got tremendous joy out of the jobs they were doing. Jennifer’s classmate, who was totaling up the sales and making change, would stop every so often and look over at me with a huge grin on her face and say, “Isn’t this fun?!” Her joy was contagious.

And the girls at the wrapping table loved figuring how to cover a 12 inch vase in tissue and yarn and then help the younger students add tags and spell names. It made them feel great to be of real service. One girl was so cute ““ she stopped after about an hour of wrapping literally hundreds of gifts and practically shouted, “This is awesome!”

Our school has a large percentage of economically disadvantaged kids, so I was especially touched by the teachers who brought their own money so no student was left out of the shopping experience and all were able to buy something for their mom and dad for Christmas.

And how often does a kid get to go shopping by themselves? It doesn’t matter to them if the merchandise isn’t brand new. They loved making their own decisions about what to buy Aunt Rachel or their baby sister.

Since I have been the recipient of some great gifts purchased by my kids at the Holiday Gift Sale ““ such as some very cute Christmas earrings and candles, I know how excited the kids are on Christmas morning to be able to surprise someone in their family with a gift that they picked out. I can’t wait to see what I get this year.

If it was a choice between working at the holiday sale or shopping at Nordstrom’s? I’ll take a day spent in the grubby multi-use room any time. What I got there truly can’t be bought.



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