EUGENE, Mo. - Looking across tables filled with small gift items, third-grader Jay Bungart had a long list of people he was hoping to find a little something for this Christmas.
Cole County R-5 Schools PTO member Melissa Johnson walked with Bungart, helping him calculate his spending budget and select the best gifts for each person at the annual Secret Santa workshop.
"It's cool they have this; it's fun to give gifts," Bungart said.
Once he paid for the items ranging from a pen to jewelry to a chew toy for his dog, other volunteers wrapped and labeled each gift before he returned to his classroom.
The scenario was repeated hundreds of times as nearly every elementary student at Eugene had the chance to walk through, said President Tina Allen.
The event does not generate a profit for the PTO. It is a gift.
Items range in price from a quarter to $10. Parents receive a flyer at home and return shopping money in an envelope with a list of potential recipients.
A few families in the school would like to participate, but it would be a hardship. The PTO sets aside money from its other fundraisers, combined with the Secret Santa company's credit for early sign up, any child can have a chance to pick out a few gifts for loved ones.
The activity also teaches children to think outside of themselves, Allen said.
"It's fun to work with these kids," said volunteer Jennifer Baur, who has coordinated the Secret Santa for the last eight years. "You hear the most incredible stories about why they choose different things, they come up with the neatest ideas."
Once all the gifts are selected, the little shoppers stop at the cash register operated by Dana Alderman.
"The items are priced so reasonable, these children can have that experience of shopping for someone," Alderman said.
Many of the shoppers have shared stories of taking on extra chores at home to earn extra money to buy gifts at the Secret Santa, Alderman said.
"It makes them feel good," she said.