Shopping spree spreads season’s sentiments
Annual effort provides cash for Christmas
By Rick Wade
“It’s for the children” is a phrase oft heard this time of year, as holiday parties, school music programs and charitable acts of gift-giving fill the days leading up to Christmas.
And on the surface, The Carlinville Christmas Shopping Spree is for the children: Through contributions from the community, this year 141 “needy” children went on a shopping spree Dec. 2, with cash to buy clothing, maybe a gift, accompanied by volunteer adult shoppers.
But at a deeper level, the Shopping Spree is every bit as meaningful to these regular grown-ups of all ages who come forward to make Christmas a little brighter for those less fortunate.
Waiting in the long line of 128 volunteer shoppers Dec. 2 at Federated Church, Carlinville resident Deb McDow passed the time with a friend as they waited to be matched with their children.
“It’s fun to watch. Some kids you get are really grateful, and others expect it,” said McDow. “You need to see what you are taught through this experience.”
Let the spree begin
Just moments before, sitting in the packed pews of the sanctuary, McDow and the other the volunteers listened to instructions delivered by Martha Young, one of the Spree organizers.
Young told the volunteers they will receive an envelope for each child.
“You will have $140 for the younger children and, if I can say this without crying,” Young said then paused, her voice crumbling a bit with emotion. “ … $160 for the high school kids. Our community has come through again.”
In the momentary silence, all the volunteers could hear the boisterous cacophony of young voices chattering, loud and happy, making noise as they did crafts at tables in the church meeting room just off the sanctuary.
Young encouraged the volunteers to help the kids get the most for their money. “Spend it all. Spend it all,” Young said. “If you have more than $10 left, drop it off at the church or the bank … but I hope you can spend it all.”
Young had one more piece of advice to the volunteers. “I should warn you about the level of excitement back there,” she said. “Appreciation has many different faces.”
So does love.
“This is actually my first time doing this,” said Michelle Lambert, Carlinville. “I just wanted to do whatever I could to make a child’s holiday season happier. It’s so nice to see everybody come together like this.”
Sitting in the pew next to Lambert is her friend, Patrick Noel. He is smiling, too, as they wait for their turn to get in line and be matched with their wards for the spree.
“It’s a great opportunity to help somebody, who really needs something, get it. All the donations that were given … that’s incredible …The kids get what they need and, as a bonus, perhaps some leftover money for a gift for family. It makes the holiday even that much better. I am surprised to see this many people,” Noel said, pausing to look back over his shoulder at the long line meandering down the center aisle toward side door next to the altar.
Noel said he and Lambert decided to volunteer together, and will be taking three siblings. He commended the local merchants where the shopping took place, offering discounts to the children. “We’re going to try to get them as much as we can for their money,” he said.
Kelly Knight of Carlinville can’t recall if this is her fourth or fifth shopping spree. But it’s been a local tradition as long as she can remember.
“I think it’s great that this is still going on,” Knight said. “It gives the kids an opportunity to have a good Christmas. I always had a good Christmas. My parents were always able to provide that for me. So it’s great that the community comes out and provides that for these kids. I love working with kids. I like to spoil them and send them home.”
Her friend, Deb McDow, said she was filling in for Knight’s husband, who could not make it. “But I’ve done this before. I think it’s neat that the kids actually get to pick out their own things, things that they want to buy. They have a little bit of input,” she said.
Been there, done that
Two Blackburn College freshmen wait their turn patiently in the long, winding line of adult volunteers. The two young men stand out among a predominately middle to late middle age group, although they are certainly not the only young people on this side of the church.
Jordan Jarue, 18, of South Beloit, Ill., saw an article in the Blackburn announcements and thought it seemed like a good opportunity. “It seems like something important to do,” said the Spanish major.
For his friend, nursing major Scott Antrovus of Wilsonville, his participation that day was a bit more personal.
“I kind of grew up poor, so it’s really important for me to give back something to these kids,” said Antrovus, 18. “We were in kind of the same position when I was little.”
Things work out
Young later related how on Friday, organizers had to decide how many children they would be able to include.
“On Friday, I ‘order’ the shopping envelopes for the number of children. This year we decided to do just what was done last year: $140 for younger children and $160 for middle and high school students,” Young said.
“The total was $20,580. The account had $20, 460. On the way out of the school where we were meeting, someone handed me a check for $140 and a $20 bill! More money continued to come in through the day. We actually added a child and spent a little extra but it is amazing that our community comes through year after year.”
As the volunteer orientation breaks up in the sanctuary, the 140-some youngsters soon to be out shopping are called to attention by a volunteer.
“Do you know what the Christmas story is?” she asked, talking into an amplified mic over the hubbub.
Only a few children answer her question, as more and more of them stop what they are doing to listen to the retelling of the Christian Gospel story about the birth of Jesus.
“This story has nothing to do with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” she said. “This is the story about a woman named Mary and her husband named Joseph. Mary was very pregnant. (They) were poor. They didn’t have much. They didn’t have any toys or any special things for the child who was on the way.
“ … Mary gave birth in Bethlehem, they were like homeless people, like refugees. That baby was not just a human being, but God. The surprise of it all is that this little baby, who was born in this poor little town, in this poor little country … is also the God of the Universe … God gave the gift of Jesus Christ, the first gift … which is why we do all this giving for each other. We are very blessed to have every single one of you here today.”