Jan’s Kids puts the magic in Christmas
by Clarke Davis
Growing up, Christmas was magical for Jan McKnight. Her family made it that way, especially her grandmother, Lillian Simpson.
“She really made things special,” she said. “I want every kid to think Christmas is magical.”
Jan McKnight is the Santa Claus of Valley Falls and this is the season she makes things magical for a lot of children.
The community effort is called Jan’s Kids and for 19 years people have been stuffing her pockets and the local bank account with money to treat the really needy children at Christmas time.
Sunday was the day she went shopping at K-mart west in Topeka, the only department store that will give her a discount. She and her “shopping crew” spent the day selecting what they need and the store provides the packing boxes.
The trailer load of goods are then brought to her home where the “wrapping crew” goes to work.
This year she shopped for 53 children. Each will receive a large box that contains at least two full sets of clothes from head to toe: shirts, pants, shoes, underwear, and a coat.
The little ones looking for Santa will get a toy and there are donors who give Jan toys instead of money to be dispersed. One person gave her several sets of Legos. The Lions Club provided eight bicycles that had been renovated by prisoners at Leavenworth.
“I try to provide their needs, not their wants,” McKnight said.
This year she averaged spending $120 on each child. More is spent on older children, simply because a coat for a high school student costs more.
Monday she was rushing her volunteers and dashing out to make the deliveries before a winter storm moved in. She likes to get the gifts to the parents when the kids are in school.
“I don’t want the children to think the gifts came from me,” she said. “They need to think they came from the parents.”
She is also the last one to take credit for the success of the program. “There are so many good and caring people who help out and donate in so many ways,” she said. “I’m always amazed and grateful.”
The effort began with a variety show at the township hall and local talent entertained the public for donations. Her guitar-playing husband, Gary, helped lead that effort.
“We did that for five or six years, but the year I was pregnant with my daughter we skipped the show,” she said. “I found out that people would give me more money not to sit through the show.”
During the Christmas season donation cans are placed in stores and people hand her money on the street. Donations can be made any time during the year by taking money to the Kendall State Bank to be put in Jan’s special account.
If there is money left over, there are some special needs at other times that Jan takes care of. She has people whisper in her ear if there’s a senior who can’t afford a yearbook or someone can’t afford a pool pass.
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