Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Students use school holiday shops to surprise loved ones

The holiday shops allow students to buy gifts for family, friends and others without the help of their parents.

Gene Witt Elementary School kindergartner Jace Sparks makes his way around the shop to see all his options before deciding what to buy.
Gene Witt Elementary School kindergartner Jace Sparks makes his way around the shop to see all his options before deciding what to buy.
Photo by Liz Ramos
  • East County
  • Schools
  • Share

Jenna Monaghan was surprised when her first-grade son Dylan came home from school Dec. 6 and told her he had bought her lots of presents.

It wasn't because he had the wherewithal to buy the presents, but because a year earlier when Gene Witt Elementary School held the annual Santa Shop, Dylan had bought presents for the family's dogs, rather than for his parents and sister.

When Monaghan heard the school was going to hold its Santa Shop last year, she also told Dylan to buy a gift for his aunt, Dianna Ray. He bought a present for her dogs instead.

“I called my sister and I was like, ‘Hey, my son loves you, but not as much as he loves your dogs,’” she said with a laugh. 

Several school Parent Teacher Organizations in the School District of Manatee County host holiday shops early in December as a fundraiser for the school and to give students an opportunity to buy presents for their family, friends and even dogs. The PTOs buy the items all through the year with funds they have earned and then use a small markup to keep the items affordable and to earn money for the schools.

Whether it’s candles, socks, toys, or games, each holiday shop stocks something for everyone in the family. 

Jenna Monaghan, who volunteered at the Gene Witt shop for the first time this year, said it’s sweet to see what the students buy. 

Gene Witt Elementary School Santa Shop volunteers Laura Thacker, Jenna Monaghan and Nicole Yensan love helping students shop for their loved ones.
Photo by Liz Ramos

This year, Jenna Monaghan’s children, Dylan and Lillie, chose to buy gifts for the family rather than the family’s dogs. 

When Lillie Monaghan saw a trash grabber in the shop, she knew it was the perfect gift for her brother. He had it at the top of his wishlist for Santa. Dylan Monaghan saw the Squishmellows in the shop and knew his sister would love them. 

Parent volunteers said the older elementary students don’t need as much help as the younger students when shopping. The fourth and fifth graders can budget more easily and choose the gifts on their own.

Some of the older students even ask if the shop will charge tax. 

Samuel Ayrolla, a Gene Witt Elementary fourth grader, said the shop was set up well so he was easily able to look through his options and find the perfect gift for his parents and sister. 

Ayrolla was deciding between two gifts for his dad. Would he buy a drill or a back scratcher? He said his dad always asks Ayrolla to scratch his back, but his dad also likes tools. A tough decision had to be made. 

Parent volunteers love helping the little ones shop. 

Gene Witt Elementary volunteer Nicole Yensan said she loves hearing the reasoning behind why students bought a particular gift. 

Yensan helped kindergartner Michael Hunter with shopping. When they were looking at socks to get his sister, she asked him what her favorite color was to help pick a cute pair. He knew his other sister likes cars, so they looked at little toy cars, two of which he purchased for her. 

When it came to his mother, Hunter said she likes “glass stuff,” so the pair went to see their options. He was able to choose from a candle and glass jar. Once he chose the candle, he had to choose the scent. He settled for a candy cane scented candle.

Hunter said he couldn’t wait to see their reactions when they open their gifts on Christmas day. 

Gene Witt Elementary School volunteer Nicole Yensan helps kindergartner Michael Hunter shop.
Photo by Liz Ramos

Ana Dougherty, who helped coordinate the Braden River Elementary holiday shop, has loved being able to help the students shop and hear their conversations. 

Dougherty recalled seeing a first grader last year holding a ring in his hand and saying he was going to get it for his ex-girlfriend. 

Then she was helping an older student decide what to get for his mother. He had $12 to spend, so she showed him the jewelry options. He picked a necklace that said “mom” and was about to take the necklace out of the box. She told him the necklace came with the box so the gift was already wrapped. 

“He runs over to his friends with the necklace and tells them, ‘Look what I got my mom, and it comes with a box,’” Dougherty said with a laugh. “He was more excited about the box.”

Yensan, whose daughter Parker Yensan is a fourth grader at Gene Witt Elementary, said the holiday shop is a highlight of the year for Parker because she loves the freedom of picking out the perfect gift for her family. 

This year, Yensan said Parker was so excited about the gift she bought for her, she couldn’t wait until Christmas to give it to her. When Yensan picked her daughter up from school Dec. 8, Parker Yensan gave her mother the Christmas spatula and cookie cutter she bought at the shop that day. 

The pair always make cookies together, so when she saw the spatula and cookie cutter, she knew it was her gift. 

Yensan said her daughter is thoughtful in choosing the right gift for each of her family members.

She recalled when Parker Yensan was a kindergartner and she bought her father, Terry Yensan, a Frisbee with a shark on it because he loves sharks. She bought her something to bake pies because she knows her mom loves to bake. 

Kylie McCurry, a Braden River Elementary School fourth grader, says she decided to buy gifts her family members could use daily.
Photo by Liz Ramos

Laura Thacker, the mother of Gene Witt second grader Aria Thacker and fourth grader Vince Thacker, said her children feel a great sense of pride when she uses the gifts they gave her. 

Last year, Vince Thacker bought his mom a mug at the shop. Every time Laura Thacker uses it, she said her son has the biggest smile on his face. 

Angie Wilson, who has four students at Braden River Elementary School, can’t wait to see what her children buy this year. 

She loved the present her third grader Odin Leroux gave her last year. 

“He told me, ‘Mom, I bought you a diamond,’” Wilson said. “I told him, ‘It is the most beautiful thing in the world. How could you afford this?’” 

Wilson said knowing the thoughtfulness behind every gift makes them all the more meaningful to her. 

Students said shopping on their own makes them feel like adults. 

Kylie McCurry, a Braden River Elementary fourth grader, said not having to have her parents by her side while shopping means she can surprise them on Christmas. 

She decided to purchase gifts her family could use on a daily basis. To prepare to shop, she asked her family members what they might like and for their favorite color. 

“I hope their faces light up with a smile,” McCurry said of the gifts she purchased. 

McCurry remembered how much her dad loved the “super dad” mug she bought him last year. She bought it to let her dad know she thought he was super. She also knew he loves coffee. 

McCurry said she’s so excited to give her family the gifts she bought she’s not sure she can wait until Christmas to give them the gifts. 



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

Latest News