Workin’ for Santa

Workin for Santa

Jan McKnight double-checks each shopping cart aided by her daughter, Maclaine.


by Clarke Davis
A great many people are under the illusion that all the work done to provide children with a bright Christmas is done at the North Pole. But we learned that some of it is done much closer to home.
A dozen women rushed through the Kmart doors on Wanamaker in Topeka at 6 a.m. Sunday and spent over three hours filling carts for 55 Valley Falls children.
They left with a trailer load of boxed merchandise that was greeted by a team of wrappers that produced 550 gift-wrapped packages to put under 17 family Christmas trees. Those presents were all ready for pickup or delivery to parents by Tuesday, three days in advance of Christmas.
This was not some kind of an anomaly. There are people who are now almost 30 years old who were visited by Santa Claus when they were small children because of the efforts of Jan McKnight and her crew of volunteers.
The appeal for money has gone out each year for the past 23 years in Valley Falls and the donations have continued to grow and so has the need.
It began 23 years ago when Jan got her guitar-playing husband, Gary, to put together a variety show of local talent. There was no end to the amount of quality talent available here and the show filled the township hall for two peformances each year for five years.
The show itself turned out to be more work than treating the children, so the appeal for money continued without the entertainment and local hearts and wallets continued to be opened and Santa’s needs are always met.
“They pay us more not to play,” McKnight said. Annual contributions tally up around $8,000.
Confidentiality is important to Jan who turns her shoppers loose with a list identified only by a number and first name. The shopper knows whether it’s a girl or boy, their clothing and shoe sizes, and their basic needs. Do they need a coat? Do they have shoes or boots?
McKnight gives the shoppers an estimate to shoot for for each child, but it doesn’t always average out even for each child.
She explained that a parent might tell her that their child only needs a good coat and they don’t need help with anything else. Furthermore, she said age differences can affect the amount spent. A good coat for a high school child might run $80 while clothes for a preschooler are less expensive.
Basically it’s the goal to provide two complete sets of clothing for each child — from head to toe. And then sprinkle in a few age-appropriate toys.
The Kmart store was empty of shoppers at that time of morning and the Valley Falls elves had a complete run of the place. For the 17 families they had 17 shopping carts all numbered and lined up in order in front of the store when they were finished. They shop at Kmart because it is the only store that provides an employee’s discount on the merchandise.
At Jan’s side were her own mostly grown children, Dylan and Maclaine, who have grown up with this being part of every Christmas they have known. As she inspects the carts, she sends one of them off to fetch batteries after noting that a toy in the cart came without them.
Several Kmart staff members are standing by to assist and ready at checkout time. All the merchandise is run through one cash register and the contents of each cart are placed in a large numbered box.
After years of doing this, Jan has it down to a science. She explained that arriving home with a whole bunch of plastic bags was just too much confusion, thus the large boxes.
Some of these shoppers  have been at it as long as Jan. And some of the wrappers as well.
Many volunteers have joined the effort over the years and Jan noted that even some of the parents whose children benefitted have offered to give a hand, stating that they didn’t have money to give, but they could wrap presents.
McKnight left Kmart with a short list of items that she would have to go elsewhere for. One child needed shoes or boots of a size they didn’t have at Kmart, while another child wanted a farm set. She was going to stop at a farm supply store for that.
And horror of horrors — for the first time in all those years she forgot a child. She made another trip back to Topeka Monday to shop for that child and when she got home the store had failed to remove the anti-theft device from one piece of clothing.
Those are not easy to remove for obvious reasons, so she made another trip back Tuesday to take care of that matter.
And you ask, Does Santa ever give Jan time off for Christmas? Sure. She was going to get some help cleaning house Wednesday and on Thursday she and the family welcomed 40 to 50 family guests for Christmas. They came from both coasts and places in between.
“They’re some of my biggest donors,” she said.
Just so you know, Santa, all’s well here.

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Posted by on Jan 25 2016. Filed under The Vindicator, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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