REED CITY – ‘Tis the season and the holiday shopping has begun.

Black Friday may be a busy day for parents to pick up great deals on presents, however for local elementary school children, the Santa Shops are the place to be.  Organized by PTO members of Evart, Reed City, Tustin and Leroy elementary schools, vendors set up their booths filled with handmade gifts.  Items are priced anywhere from 50 cents  to $5, which makes shopping for these youngsters perfect even on tighter budgets.  Parent volunteers also help by showing kids to gifts that fit the recipients and their money allowance. Aliyah Fitch, a fourth grader at Reed City’s Norman Elementary enjoys her time looking through everything, “I like that I can shop for my whole family here.”

This year at Norman,about 100 more students shopped as the Kindergarteners were invited to join the fun.  Several AP classes from RCHS were on hand to provide them with one-on-one help to pick out gifts for people on their list and keep track of money. The gym was extremely crowded during that time, but Santa’s Helpers really made their shopping experience run smoothly.

Many of the vendors who bring their crafts to the Santa Shops are familiar faces year after year.  Nile and Ruth Hayden travel from Sand Lake with their trailer of goodies.  Nile spends his time in the workshop making wooden ornaments, while Ruth crochets hats, scarves and potholders to sell. “It’s a long day, when you get going early in the morning to drive to these shows.  But we enjoy it. The kids are so fun to watch,” he says.

The couple has done close to 45 shows this past year. It was at a craft show downstate many years ago that someone gave them the idea to start traveling to the Santa Shops.  They are one of the original vendors who have been sharing the gift of giving with students.

A lot of work goes into organizing these for the schools, starting as early as October with mailings and phone calls.  Seeing the excitement on the childrens’ faces as they shop for their family and friends makes it all worthwhile.

So if you are a recipient of one of these gifts from the Santa Shops, even if it is something on the different side, cherish it.  That gift will become a wonderful memory of the holiday spirit between you and that child.