Three Shoals Elementary School fourth-graders pulled a twin-sized comforter off a shelf at Walmart and looked it over carefully, making sure it was a good buy for a 7-year-old girl.
Shopping for “Give A Kid A Christmas,” a holiday gift donation program run by the Surry County Sheriff’s Office, Sophie Hutchens, Alexis Cummings and Tristen Sechrist decided the blanket was versatile and within their budget.
“And it’s Frozen,” Sechrist said, referring to the Disney film that would likely bring a thumbs up from a young girl, as they plopped bedding into their buggy and moved on.
The girls were among 22 Shoals students and nearly 150 volunteers total helping put together gift bags for the sheriff’s Christmas program at Walmart on Tuesday morning.
“We have a bunch of stuff, and we take it for granted,” Hutchens said. “It’s special to give people what they need.”
The students had started planning their fund-raiser as soon as they returned to school in August, said Principal Dana Thomas, who accompanied the group to Walmart.
Their teacher, Cristi Arington, had gotten students in AIG classes involved in the program last year for a service project, and the kids were eager to help again this year.
“Through their money and economic unit the students devised a plan for doing chores at home at various prices to raise the money,” the principal said, adding that they also ran a lemonade stand at a fall school event.
On Tuesday, they handed Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson a check for $1,021.35.
“They gave it all,” Atkinson said. “They were so proud of themselves and they should be.”
Another trio of Shoals students, Vann Kipple, Christian Mikolics and Austen Smith, cruised the aisles picking out items for a 7-year-old boy.
The fourth-graders felt they had a good idea of what to get, “because we lived it,” Mikolics said, and they knew exactly why they had wanted to be a part of the project.
“The whole point of Christmas, the Christmas spirit is to give,” Smith said.
“People say it’s about getting stuff,” Mikolics said.
“But they’re wrong,” Smith finished.
The final push
Atkinson said that while fund-raising had been off to a slower start this year, things had come together over the weekend.
Among other donations coming in, Saturday benefits helped fill the coffer.
The Ararat Volunteer Fire Department pancake breakfast yielded $950, and the Eldora Ruritan Club’s “An Old Fashioned Christmas” play raised $2,191.
“We were able to call everyone on the waiting list and tell them we’d be able to take care of them, and increase the amount from $100 to $110 per kid,” Atkinson said.
“I was really sweating it a week ago,” he said, adding that organizers had discussed having to either cut back the number served or spending less per person.
“Once we got the word out the community responded in a huge way,” he said. “It’s such a blessing to live in a county like this.”
Volunteers, including Walmart employees, city and county employees, all kinds of law enforcement as well as just folks wanting to help, swarmed the store beginning at 8 a.m.
Each shopper grabbed a list with the age and gender of a child and went to work.
When the shoppers’ list was complete, the items were rung up and placed into large bags by volunteers, with three empty trailers waiting to be filled with the bags outside.
“It’s easier for us because we know where everything is,” said Lisa Oakley, a Walmart employee, who shopped near co-worker Sharon Westmoreland.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I love it,” Westmoreland said.
“It’s heartbreaking too,” Oakley said. “Just knowing that there’s kids in Surry County in need. You never know who you’re shopping for. It could be your neighbor.”
Thomas said the students from Shoals planned to sing Christmas carols after the shopping had concluded.
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.