Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Teaching the true spirit of giving

School and community come together for new holiday tradition

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TOWER- While most children get excited with the prospect of getting presents, at Tower-Soudan Elementary children get excited for the chance to give gifts to almost everyone of their list.

This is the goal of “Santa’s Workshop,” a now annual event organized by Tower-Soudan Elementary school staff, and spearheaded by school secretary Ilona Svedberg. The elementary school, one of the smallest in the area, only has about 75 students, which helps makes this type of effort more manageable.

“It’s 100-percent donations,” said Svedberg, who apparently has an army of elves who do a lot of after-Christmas sale shopping to stock up for the following year.

An empty classroom is turned into a veritable Christmas shop, with tables full of gift items for all ages, some new, but many re-gifted or gently-used. Students come in class by class, and the tables are restocked between visits.

The donations mostly come from the community, Svedberg said, but she added that some people, including herself, keep an eye out for post-holiday sales when holiday items, especially wrapping paper and gift bags, are marked down as low as 90% off. Gift bags, she said, come in handy because they are easier to “wrap” gifts in than regular paper.

The event was started with help from Cindy Myre, a frequent volunteer craft teacher at the school.

“When I was in elementary school, back in Wisconsin,” she said. “we had a Santa’s Workshop, where gifts cost a dime or a quarter. We really looked forward to it year after year. This makes me feel young again.”

For Myre, seeing that this has become an annual tradition at Tower-Soudan has been wonderful.

“I love to see how excited the kids get over something so simple,” she said. “It brings me a lot of warmth to think these presents are being set out under the tree to be unwrapped on Christmas.

Myre said watching the children shop is always a pleasure.

“It can be the cheesiest gift,” she said, “and sometimes that means a rhinestone pin for a father!”

She said the kids gravitate to the little things, and that gifts that adults may see as “big ticket” items are not usually their first choice.”

“I love to see the kids giving instead of wanting,” she said, though she added that sometimes the kids do seem to pick gifts that they themselves want for a sibling.

Myre will be one of the volunteer gift wrappers again this year.

Children pay a nominal fee, and then get to pick out gifts for their immediate family members. If students are unable to pay, Svedberg said, they still participate along with their classmates. Each child gets to pick out at least four gifts, and those with larger families get to choose more. The money raised (mostly in quarters!), gets donated to the local food shelf.

Teachers, school staff, and community volunteers help the children pick out the gifts, which can be a time-consuming process, as students try to find the perfect gift for their family members. Volunteers then help the students make a gift card for each present, helping them spell out names and other words as needed.

The school has a large percentage of students who live in poverty, and for many, this is a once-a-year opportunity to be able to spread the holiday spirit to their siblings, parents, and grandparents.

The gifts are then expertly wrapped or bagged by a team of adult volunteers. The gifts are then packaged up in a bright red plastic bag, for each child to bring home on the bus.

The program would not be possible without the generous support of the community. Gifts are now needed for this year’s workshop, set for the last week of school before the holiday break. Anyone wishing to drop off items can do so at the school office during regular school hours before Tuesday, Dec. 19.

Volunteers are also needed to help out at this year’s event. Anyone wanting more information can contact Ilona Svedberg at the school office, 218-753-4040.

Please consider setting aside any extra gifts at your house (gifts are needed for all ages of children, and also for adults), or consider scouring the pre-Christmas sales for bargains. You are sure to bring a smile to a child’s face this holiday season.

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