Holiday Shop teaches children the art of gift giving

Most everyone could use a little financial advice.

This week, as children step through a castle gate into the Children’s Holiday Shop, an elf will greet them – and serve as their financial adviser of sorts.

The 120 elves – student volunteers dressed in green and red aprons – on hand will guide about 700 children, ages 3 to 12, through the Lawrence Arts Center’s 13th annual Children’s Holiday Shop to pick out gifts to surprise family and friends.

“My favorite part is watching the kids pick out the gifts for their relatives,” said former shopper and now elf Reese Randall, 11, a fifth-grader at Wakarusa Valley School. “It’s fun because they don’t always get the kind of thing (the parents) would probably want.”

But it’s the experience of deciding what to get that drives the Holiday Shop.

“It’s a positive, empowering experience that builds self-esteem,” said Noelle Uhler, director of development for the Lawrence Arts Center. “They think, ‘Gosh, what should I pick because I get to pick all by myself.’ That’s the beauty of it.”

About 7,000 items ranging from $1 crayon kits to $5 socket sets, mostly pre-wrapped, will be set out on tables for the children with elves in tow to budget and buy.

Between one-third and one-half of the children will purchase gifts using cash. The rest will use $1 Holiday Dollars – special red Christmas tender that has as much buying power at the shop as Uncle Sam’s version.

About 1,000 packets containing $10 worth of Holiday Dollars have been distributed this year to children through the Lawrence school district and social service agencies such as the Ballard Center and the Boys and Girls Club.

One goal is to make sure the children feel like they’re shopping and purchasing while being able to give.

“It’s kind of a learning process in one sense of the word,” said Jack Hamilton, president of Topeka-based Capitol Federal Foundation, the charitable arm of Capitol Federal Savings and the corporate sponsor of the Holiday Dollars. “In practice, through this holiday fair, children who are coming in are buying for other people in their family. So they get a sense of what giving means to them even though the dollars are provided for them.”

Friday’s Children’s Holiday Shop will be from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. and is reserved for children of members of the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H.

Saturday’s shop, which is open to the public, will be from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.