This week, Yankton’s Christmas Store, which has been teaching children the joy of giving for eight years, will open and close for the last time.
The store is a place where children of ages ranging from junior kindergarten through fifth grade can come one day a year to “buy” presents for their parents and siblings.
This year’s Christmas Store will be held from 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at Riverview Reformed Church, 1700 Burleigh St., Yankton.
The Christmas Store is filled with tables and the presents are sorted based on gender and age group and include everything from toys to clothes to fishing gear, said organizer and cofounder of the event, Dick Hudson.
Everything is free and there is no pre-registration required. All that is required is for an adult to accompany the child to the event. From there, every child is ushered into the Christmas Store — parents are not allowed in — and accompanied by a personal shopper as they pick out Christmas gifts for their family. Meanwhile, waiting parents can enjoy coffee and cookies provided, and siblings can watch a movie while they await their turn.
“The parents are not allowed to go into the shopping area, so they have no idea what they are getting,” Hudson said. “That’s what the kids love, and to them, they are buying that stuff. It is not being given to them; they are getting it for their parents and brothers and sisters.”
Presents are wrapped at the Christmas Store so they will be a surprise on Christmas.
As much joy as the event has brought families, Hudson has decided it’s time to call it quits, for a few reasons, including his health.
“The three ladies I‘ve got in it with me, one, Barb Clayton, is retiring and is going to be traveling quite a bit; Sherry Duke runs the Special Olympics and has three young daughters; and Amy Bertsch is tired,” Hudson said. “It’s one of those situations where I say I run it, but Amy pretty much does everything. I do a lot of the shopping, but she does all the running around.”
The idea for the Christmas Store came from Hudson’s late wife, Ann, as a way to help children learn about giving. It became a way to remember her after she died and to celebrate her love of children.
“We were married just a little over 50 years. In 2012, my wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer,” Hudson said. “We had Aflac, and I asked her what she wanted to do with the money. She said she wanted to do something for kids and this is what she came up with. She wanted to teach them the joy of giving.”
This is why the children can pick out presents for others, but not themselves, he said.
“The kids get nothing except the joy of giving, and you should see the smiles on their faces while they try to pick out presents. It’s amazing,” Hudson said. “Ann loved kids and kids loved her. She could take the orneriest little brat you ever wanted to see and, in five minutes, they would be best friends. That’s just the type of person she was.”
Ann was able to participate in the Christmas Store for the first two years, but passed away in June 2014. Since then, Hudson has kept the Christmas Store going in hopes that, perhaps, her children and grandchildren would take up the event.
“I promised her that I would keep it going as long as I could,” Hudson said. “I’m 76 and my health is failing, and there wouldn’t be a member of my family that could handle it.”
Hudson said he considered passing on the event to another group or organization.
“But it wouldn’t be the same,” he said. “It was for her, and if somebody’s running it that doesn’t know her, it wouldn’t be the same.”
The Elks offered money and help running the event, but told Hudson they couldn’t take over the event for themselves, he said.
“It was just time to close it down,” Hudson said. “I hate to do it, but I have nobody that really knew Ann to take it over. That’s the important part to me — that it continues in her name.”
The decision was made to have one final year of the Christmas Store and then donate any money left over to charities for kids in the area.
The greatest number of child shoppers that the Christmas Store has seen in a single day is 285. This year, Hudson hopes they may reach 300 children, which a personal goal, he said.
But watching those kids shop is what the Christmas Store is really about, he added.
”The thing I remember most was this little girl, who spent three hours trying to decide what to get her mother,” Hudson said. “By the time she decided, the present was gone. She went from joy to sadness real quick, but she found something else and was happy.
“If you want to see joy, just be there on Dec. 7 and watch those kids come through.”
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