For two days this week, Janice Watson and her team of volunteers transformed a portion of the media center at Dillon Valley Elementary School into a miniature shopping center.
Watson, who recently moved to Summit County from Colorado Springs, brought with her the message and mission of Giving Kids. Formed in Colorado Springs in 2006, Giving Kids is a volunteer-run program that reaches out to children of low-income families during the holidays.
Children of families in difficult financial situations might not be able to afford to buy gifts for their loved ones, so Giving Kids offers them that chance. Volunteers purchase toys and other small gifts with donated money (and sometimes their own). Each child is given up to five tickets to “purchase” a gift for members of his or her immediate family — parents, grandparents and siblings.
Watson enjoyed her experience with Giving Kids in Colorado Springs so much that she decided to try it out in Summit County.
“It was very rewarding and the kids really loved it,” she said. “I think it’s an excellent program.”
She contacted Dillon Valley Elementary School, raised as much money as she could, gathered some volunteers and purchased the gifts.
“Every dollar that comes in goes to a gift,” she said. “Money donated goes directly to the kids.”
On the first day, Wednesday, Dec. 11, Watson said the line of kids stretched all the way through the media center. They were still busy Friday morning, as even more children trickled in.
After receiving their tickets, each child was paired with a volunteer who acted as a personal shopper, guiding the child to each table and helping him or her pick out just the right gift. The dad’s table offered items such as tool kits and flashlights, while the mom’s table had jewelry and “#1 Mom” pendants. There was even a table for infant siblings.
Sammy Matthews and Lynn Drager held down the wrapping station Friday morning, placing each gift item into a holiday-themed bag and labeling it for the intended recipient. The children then got to pick up a toothbrush, candy cane and small gift item just for themselves.
Matthews wore a Santa suit for the occasion.
“We’re having as much fun as the kids are!” she exclaimed, expertly bagging yet another gift. “It’s a win-win situation.”
Watson stressed the importance of her volunteers, none of whom received any monetary compensation for their involvement.
“They’re just giving of their time and their love,” she said.
Watson added that she’d love to be able to set up a Giving Kids project again for the next holiday season, but that will all depend on gathering more volunteers, and the support she can gain from the community.