(Dec. 14, 2018) Simply having a wonderful Christmas time.
Those song lyrics apparently rang true for children who participated in the Ocean City Young Professionals’ Christmas Spirit Shopping Campaign on Dec. 1.
Cate Nellans, co-chair of the Christmas Spirit Campaign, said more than 80 children between pre-K and fifth grade were able to go on a $100 tax-free shopping spree at the Berlin Walmart.
Nellans, whose duties included finding children to participate in the event, said the group reached out to area organizations and school guidance counselors.
Once in the store, children were able to select gifts – specifically toys or clothes – for themselves or for family members.
“We’ll wrap them and label [the gifts] for them, and then we’ll send them home so they can put them under the tree and have something to open on Christmas morning,” she said.
Organizers said they were truly moved by what they heard as children walked the aisles.
“Some of the stories when we hear back from the chaperones that actually go one-on-one with the kids, I mean it’s heartbreaking,” Nellans said. “One of the little kids said, ‘You know, I want to get a pillow. I’ve never had a pillow before.’ Or, ‘I need a mattress. I don’t have anywhere to sleep.’
“To us, it’s everyday necessities, [but] to them it’s the whole world,” she added.
What happens when a volunteer or event organizer hears something like that? Nellans said they direct some cases to other agencies that help tackle some of the bigger problems. She said the organization alerts other charities in certain situations, asking, “Hey, we had this kid come through and they said this. Can you help?”
She said organizers often see many of the same children returning year after year.
“We love having them back but, on the other hand, it is a downer they have to come back,” Nellans said.
She went on to say the event allows children to find something that’s truly meaningful to them.
“It’s heartbreaking to hear it, but to them it’s Christmas and some of them will go in and find that toy that they’ve been dying to get, and that’s the only thing they’ll get and they’re dead set on it,” Nellans said.
There were more than 100 volunteers and at least 100 donors for this year’s event, according to an Ocean City Young Professionals Facebook post.
Those who wish to volunteer must pass a background check, have a valid driver’s license or identification card, and be at least 16 years old.
Nellans said the group wants to continue to expand the shopping campaign, as it means a lot to the children who receive the gifts, but it all depends on fundraising and volunteer efforts.
“For us, this is our main event,” Nellans said. “We will volunteer at other programs in the area as young professionals, but this is our own thing that we do just as our own core group.”
The actual event happens prior to the holiday, but for the children who participate, the anticipation is there as if it was actually Christmas.
“Even at five in the morning, these kids are like roaring to go and so excited to go get presents, not just for themselves but their family, and it’s just really amazing,” Nellans said.