The elves at Santa Express are learning new ways to bring Christmas joy this year – and keep fundraising for the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery.
The annual pop-up shop is a spot where kids can find gifts for the special people on their list. In a more typical year, children would go to a physical store with a list of people and a budget, and volunteer elves would help them shop and wrap their gifts.
“The kids get so excited,” said Santa Express director Hayley Lydig. “You can tell in their face they want to blurt out their secret so bad. They just can’t even contain how excited and proud they are.”
This year, thanks to the pandemic, “it’s the same but different,” Lydig said.
Instead of shopping in person, children will use the new Santa Express website to tell volunteers about the people they are shopping for this season. They’ll fill out information like the recipient’s name, age and relationship to the child and choose a gift category – among them mugs, toys, sports, games and holiday decor.
The gifts cost between $1 and $10 and include a mix of trendy items (think things emblazoned with bacon or narwhals or whatever the hot thing of the year is) and “things that are always going to be a winner,” like Christmas mugs and candles.
Children also are asked to give a little information about the recipient. For instance, “They can say, ‘My dad is a huge Seahawks fan,’ or ‘I really want to pick out something from Gonzaga for my dad,’ ” Lydig said. She’s hoping that through the notes, “the kid still feels like they got to help pick (the gift).”
Once the form is submitted, including price points picked by the family, Santa Express volunteers will choose gifts and prepare them for pickup. This year, to keep everyone safe, the group is limiting volunteers to just the board members.
“They’re truly the ladies that just love this experience,” Lydig said. Most of them are grandmothers, so they know what little ones are like. And, they’ve worked with Santa Express for years and been involved with the purchasing of the products, so they know what’s there and will be able to find the right gift based on the notes, she said.
When gifts are ready, which might take two or three days, the family will receive a confirmation email. Pickup will be at 5004 E. Sprague Ave. on Tuesdays and Saturdays through December. The last day to shop is Dec. 20; the last pickup day is Dec. 22.
Lydig, 28, has grown up with Santa Express. She shopped there as a kid, she volunteered as a teen, and she has been director for the past four years. While she’ll miss interacting with the kids in person, she’s excited about the group’s new website and the opportunities it brings, including the option to donate online.
The goal this year is to raise $100,000 for Vanessa Behan, which offers crisis care for children ages 6 and younger. It’s the amount Santa Express has raised for the past four of five years, Lydig said, and the nursery relies on that money in its budget.
“There’s always a little bit of fear that we won’t hit that number, and I think that’s even more true this year, especially as we continue to see the pandemic affect families and jobs and security,” Lydig said.
“We’re still here for the season,” she said. “We may have gone virtual, but we still need your help.”
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