Santa Claus Shop Brings Christmas to Those in Need
The 44th Annual Santa Claus Shop will invite needy families to "shop" for Christmas gifts on Tuesday, December 7 at St. John's Lutheran Church.
Christmas morning just wouldn't be the same without a collection of prettily wrapped gifts waiting underneath the tree, but the unfortunate reality is that Santa Claus doesn't always visit every homeless shelter, multi-family apartment, and single room in assisted living facilities.
To ensure that even the neediest of families and senior citizens have an opportunity to experience the fullness of the Christmas season, gifts and all, the once-a-year Santa Claus Shop was established through the Summit Helping Its People organization and provides gifts and necessities to those in need at Christmastime.
The Santa Claus Shop is an annual team effort as four Chairpersons, four Co-Chairpersons, and over 100 volunteers come together in the spirit of Christmas and generosity to organize the charitable event. This year, the exclusive shopping day will take place on Tuesday December 7 from 9am to 3pm and 5pm to 7pm at St. John's Lutheran Church.
"It makes you feel like this is what the holiday season is all about!" said Christie McGinn, Summit resident and chairperson of this year's 44th consecutive Santa Claus Shop.
Joining McGinn on the team of chairpersons are Patricia Sheaffer, Rita Murti, and Breene Wesson. This year's co-chairs are Jennifer Anderson, Jennifer Beck, Aimee Meffer, and Antonia DiPaolo. All eight women are Summit residents.
The Santa Claus Shop serves nearly 500 families throughout Summit, New Providence, Berkley Heights, and Stirling, each of which is identified through the assistance of local social service agencies, the Summit Housing Authority, Overlook Hospital, and area elementary schools.
During their complimentary shopping trip, McGinn explained that "every child gets a toy, a book, and a clothing item and every adult gets a clothing item and a houseware item for the family." Domestic items include those such as dishware or kitchen appliances.
In addition, the Santa Claus Shop has a tradition of inviting the senior citizens of the 12 Chestnut Avenue building to choose a needed item to brighten their holidays, but this year McGinn said that they will be giving to the seniors in a different way.
"It's hard for [the senior citizens] to get out—a lot of them don't have cars—if it's a rainy or snowy day, and they're carrying these big appliances like a toaster oven, [so] they said, 'Would you mind coming to us?'"
Those involved with organizing the Santa Claus Shop were receptive to the request and able to strike a compromise with the elderly group: this holiday season, senior customers will each be receiving a Shop Rite gift card.
McGinn said that the senior citizens are always very appreciative and thankful for the holiday gifts they receive through the shop.
The Santa Shop worker said that those who will actually be attending the big event often begin lining up outside the "store" door at 6:00 on the morning of the exclusive shopping day despite the fact that there has always been more than enough merchandise to go around.
"The people who come to shop are very, very patient," said McGinn, referring especially to those who will be waiting up to 3 hours before they can enter.
Upon admittance participants must present a letter of verification, which they receive by mail, confirming their qualification for the program. Once approved, the shoppers are assigned to a volunteer who guides them through the shopping experience, leading them to the store sections that best fit their personal needs and reminding them to pick up items for other members of their families.
"It's so wonderful when you do take those people through. I had one woman last year, it was her first year being invited, and she was a young mom and had maybe a one-year-old [child]. She was crying and crying, saying, 'I can get a book for my child?...I can get a coat?' She couldn't believe it," McGinn remembered.
After the customers have hand-selected their special gifts, they are then directed to a wrapping station, staffed with numerous volunteers, who add the finishing touches with bows, ribbons, and festive wrapping papers.
The grateful moments experienced throughout the day occur thanks to a team of hard-working, compassionate volunteers. But behind the scenes, toy, clothing, and homeware contributions are initially made possible through private donations from Summit residents, grants from local organizations, and gift donations from those with a heart to help.
Throughout the years, Wal-Mart in Watchung has shown great support of the Santa Claus Shop by opening its doors to the shopping team which purchases many of its gifts there, and also in providing storage space and monetary donations for the organization.
Other organizations that have donated and supplied volunteers to the shop in the past are the Summit Junior Fortnightly Club, the Junior League of Summit, and the Summit Police and Fire Departments. Summit's middle schoolers have also contributed to the process and added to their required community service hours by aiding with the preliminary mailings that are sent out to customers and donors in the fall.
McGinn told of a new donation this year which came about when four former chairpersons arranged a coffee event to collect gift donations. Word spread through those who attended and soon, Toys R Us had donated $3,000 toward this year's purchase of toys for the Santa Claus Shop.
"People have been very generous," said McGinn.
If you are interested in volunteering your time to help with this year's event, contact Christie McGinn at CEMcGinn@hotmail.com.
McGinn said of those who will be flocking to the Santa Claus Shop on Tuesday morning, "They want to make their holiday, and especially for their children, as magical and as special as it can be. And I hope that we can do a little bit of that."