During the Advent and Christmas Season, many parish/school communities have fundraisers and community/school events to enhance this wonderful season, to bring people together in the joy of giving and to build community. Such is the simple community school builder and mini-fundraiser that for a few years ago I assisted with called, “The Beary Merry Christmas Store”. This special 3-day Christmas store provided the “students” (shoppers) of a Catholic elementary school to have an opportunity to shop for relatives and friends, on their school campus. It was a wonderful shopping experience for students kindergarden through 8th grade that was simple to organize, set-up and coordinate. The Beary Merry Christmas store was originally the creative works and design, of Mrs. Maryann Horak, a gifted Jr. High School teacher at St. Paschal Baylon School in Southern California. This article will provide the simple building blocks to put on your own Beary Merry Christmas Store easily in your parish/school community for years to come. The name “Beary” reflects the simple brown bear they use in their school newsletters and thus, “Beary Merry”.
First off, students need to be provided flyers or info in their school paper, requesting the donation of small value items ($10.00 and less) for sale at the store. The items provided by parents, can be new or barely used from home. Gift items collected are then placed three weeks prior to the store opening in large decorated carboard boxes within the school grounds. Gift items donated consist of stationery, Christmas décor, small toys, stuffed animals, hair accessories, jewerly, games, CDs, craft items, etc. It is wise to discourage donations of any glass items, snow globes, wine glasses, glass candle holders, etc. as many times these items may break during the store event. I found that moms enjoyed shopping for and donating items for the store. The cut-off for donations was two days before the store event.
During the time of the gift donations, prior gift shopping lists go out to all the students for their completion. These lists are shopping guides that list who the student is shopping for. The parent when turning in this list, will also submit their check, or cash, to pay for fake paper shopping money. This red and green paper money, is allocated in increments of $1.00 and $5.00 paper bills. It was somewhat along the lines of Monopoly money and made this easier, and fun, for the students while shopping. Funds collected to purchase fake paper shopping money could also be used to purchase and to provide small inexpensive items from Oriental Trading to enhance the store stock.
The weeks before the opening of The Beary Merry Christmas Store is the time to sign-up parent and student volunteers. The more volunteers, the smoother the operation of the store works. Mom volunteers are needed as, gift wrap Santa helpers, personal shoppers, set-up, take-down, check-in, etc. Then you have the Student Council volunteers who set up items on tables, also assist with wrapping and personal shopping, etc. A small army of volunteers obviously works best! The store hours are during the students’ lunch break for three days.
The first day of the store opening is when everything is organized by station. There are numerous table stations set up for items that are $1,00, $5.00 and $10.00. Decorations are in place with Christmas CDs ready to play. Tables are set-up in the back for gift wrap, ribbon, gift bags and name tags. The front stations have tables where students check in and receive their shopping list and their red/green paper money. All the gift items stations are managed by the student volunteers and moms usually work the gift wrapping. With everything set-up and Christmas music on, the eager students arrive for shopping. The first day is a total frenzy as many students shop and find that special small gift for a parent, grandparent or friend. Student volunteers work with younger students in assisting them with their list and shopping. The lead coordinator and 2nd coordinator (that was me, the Store Manager), make sure everything is working smoothly and working out any problems that come up like broken glass (that is why no donation of class items) or additional shopping assistants needed.
For the years that I did volunteer to work with The Beary Merry Christmas Store as their Store Manager, I have found the experience amazing and placed me and my many volunteers in the true Spirit of Christmas. In reflection, I remember one year how a kindergarden girl was disappointed to find that all the small stuffed Teddy Bears were purchased and gone. I told that little girl there would be more the next day. After a very busy first day, I was happy to drive to a local toy store and purchase a few small Teddy Bears so she would be able to purchase at least one the next day. It was in knowing that I and my other mom volunteers and student council volunteers were making a special difference for the students for those three shopping days (lunch hour) with lovely small presents shopped for relatives and friends that brought us joy. My slogan was always, “The Beary Merry Christmas Store – Where Merry Gets You More!”. I hope those reading this will consider organizing their own simple Beary Merry Christmas Store in their parish community or school, it truly reflects the Spirit of Christmas and graces for all those volunteering in the joy of the season are great. Merry Christmas!
Copyright 2013 Leslie Lenko