How do kids shop for mom and dad without revealing the surprise of the gift?
It’s a problem 8-year-old Cash Marly doesn’t face.
On Wednesday, Cash went with his sister and their teacher to the second floor of River Park Square, where a pop-up shop welcomed them with thousands of inexpensive gift options that sent their imaginations running.
Santa Express is an annual fundraiser for the nonprofit Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery. Cash is among thousands of children ages 4 to 12 who will visit the store during its 26th season. Santa Express, operated by over 1,100 volunteers, raised more than $100,000 last year, said Hayley Lydig, event director.
With $20 to spend, Cash looked through aisles of wooden gliders, furry snowballs, stickers, bracelets and other toys and gifts that range from 50 cents to $8. A volunteer helper, or “elf,” accompanied him to help choose the gifts and stick to his budget, all while his parents were at home.
“I get to be nice to my family,” said Cash, choosing gifts for nine family members. “It makes things a lot easier.”
He picked out a little toy sea lion for his 12-year-old sister Zohi and placed it in a gift bag with decorative stamps.
Cash’s teacher at Noah’s Ark preschool and day care, Sandi Van Doren, takes each student to the store every year. She said the kids love the idea of the store, which gives them the independence to pick out gifts.
“They look forward to this literally the whole month,” she said.
A typical Saturday can draw more than 350 participants, so Lydig recommended parents drop off their kids at the store on weekdays to avoid the weekend rush.
“The weekends are actual insanity,” she said.
The Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery gives parents in crisis the opportunity to drop off their children for free day care services 24 hours a day. It also provides classes for parents to learn skills that create a more caring environment for their kids and a 24-hour crisis hotline at (509) 535-3155.
The nonprofit is at 1004 E. 8th Ave. The 501(c)3 is waiting for its new 30,000-square-foot facility to be built, which will allow it to accommodate three times more children.
Santa Express is open until Dec. 23 from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.
For more information on the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery and Santa Express, visit vanessabehan.org.
River Park Square’s developer is an affiliate of the Cowles Co., which publishes The Spokesman-Review.