The Christmas Store: Students discover the reason for the season

The Christmas Store: Students discover the reason for the season

By Tyler Dahlgren

Gordon Elementary students walk into their school’s gymnasium, which for a couple December days has been transformed into a holiday-themed winter wonderland called the Christmas Store.

It’s amazing how their eyes light up, said principal Casey Slama, then dart from table to table in instant pursuit of the perfect Christmas gift. There’s “Oohs!” and “Aahs!”, a rush of collective excitement, and the heartwarming kicker: None of these gifts are for them.

The Christmas Store originated in nearby Rushville many years ago. The two towns share a middle school, in Rushville, and a high school, in Gordon, but have their own elementary schools.

“A group of ladies got together and decided to get some gently-used items donated from community members and then create a little sore for the kids so that they could shop for their families,” Slama said. “It has been going on here at Gordon Elementary for seven years.”

The school’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) is in its second year of running the store, serving as the driving force around a majority of the store’s planning and organization. Kami Scott does a phenomenal job soliciting donations from businesses in Gordon, Slama said.

“The community has been really great about giving to us so that the kids can learn about giving to others,” said Slama.

In small northwest Nebraska towns, it is imperative for schools to share a connection with the community, and that is certainly the case in Gordon and Rushville.

“Being where we are at, we have to rely on one another a lot,” Slama said. “The community wants to see the best things happen for the kids, and donating to the Christmas store is a way that they can do that. Not all of them have kids in school anymore, but it’s neat to see them continue to want to help the kids in the community.

Each donated item costs exactly $1. Students buy gifts for their immediate families. Parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. With 190 kids in the school each taking home four or five presents, it’s important the community is so invested.

“That connection with the community is huge, because it keeps them involved with the young kids, and they also provide a great model for what giving is by the donations we receive,” Slama said. “It sets a great example for our kids.”

Over a two-day period, teachers bring their grade levels, K-5, in to shop at the Christmas Store. Cookies and cocoa are provided afterwards, a nice way to calm down after the always hectic rigors of holiday shopping.

Turns out, giving presents gets the kids just as giddy as receiving them, if not more so.

“It is really funny to listen to them when they shop,” Slama said. “It’s funny to listen to their thought processes for why they are getting certain gifts for certain people. Just how much thought they put into it, how much they know about each of those individuals in their families, it’s really neat to see.”

It’s a special event, one made possible by the giving nature of the surrounding community and the hard work of the school’s PTO.

“Nebraska schools are phenomenal because of the people inside of the school and the people in the community and how they really around things like the Christmas Store,” Slama said.

For students, each item donated becomes a memory made.