Longtime volunteer’s latest focus is Kids Christmas shopping experience

Audrey Caro

Nancy Patton has volunteered in one way or another for most of her adult life.

Through the years, that’s included work for churches, schools, children’s sports teams, chambers of commerce and beauty pageants. She’s enjoyed it all, she says, but it’s when she talks about one of her most recent endeavors that she gets emotional.

Patton has been on the Sweet Home Beautification Committee for five years.

“Three years ago, (committee member) Bob Dahlenburg said ‘We don’t have enough things for kids,'” Patton said. “I already was doing the Rock Around the Christmas Tree (event) for the businesses, and so I just thought ‘Well, why don’t we do a free kids store?'”

Thus was born the Kids Free Christmas Store, which is in its third year (see page 17 for details).

That idea didn’t include a blank check to fund the store, she said. She collected money to buy the gifts so local children could shop, at no cost, for Christmas presents for their family members.

The first year, about 94 children shopped at the free store.

Last year 167 children participated and about 600 gifts were given away.

Patton’s husband Larry works for CH2M Hill, which has donated $250 each year for the free store, she said.

All Star Auction, the Laura Gillott team, Wendi Melcher and O&M Tires also contribute, as well as Patton’s store, Trash to Treasure. Last year she also got donations from the Police Department and Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District.

“It’s easy to get sponsors,” Patton said. “You start talking about kids, you know, who want to shop for their families, it just gets you right there (in the heart). But the other neat thing is the Police Department and the Fire Department gave me gifts. Both of them called me and that was a real blessing.

“I was expecting a little box; their whole van was packed with stuff. I will tell you this, if it wasn’t for the police department and the fire department last year, we wouldn’t have made it.”

At least one contributor got a head start for this year’s free store.

“This year, one of my vendors (at Trash to Treasure), a retired nurse, gave me $600,” Patton said.

This vendor had contributed before, but approached Patton early for this year’s event.

“She came to me at the beginning of this year, she’s a Christian, and she said, ‘I just feel like I’m supposed to give you some money for that kids’ store,'” Patton said. “When she handed me the check, I about had a heart attack.”

The store, which is held at Sweet Home Evangelical Church, is open to children 12 years old and younger.

Pastor Brian Hotrum lets the group use the church at no cost.

The first stop when a child visits the free store is the registration table, where he or she checks in and gets help filling out a card with their name and the members of their household who they want to shop for.

While children wait their turns to shop, they are treated to cookies and hot chocolate. This year Dutch Bros. is donating the hot chocolate, Patton said.

Each child is paired with an adult personal shopper who helps him or her select gifts from the items, which are arranged by age group and gender. The last stop is a gift-wrapping station.

Last year they were short on items for babies and toddlers, Patton said.

“Of course, we’re always short on the mom stuff,” she added.

Donated items can have a value of $10 or less but everything should be new.

“I want this to be a quality event,” Patton said.

Even if a child does not have money, she wants him to be able to give gifts to his family members, she said.

“I want him to be really proud,” Patton said, taking a few moments to wipe away tears. “It makes me cry, I’m sorry. (I want him to) be really proud that he can get his mom and dad something.”

Patton said she and her husband have a heart for children. The couple is raising their 5-year-old great-grandson, Tyson. He will make an appearance at the shop too, dressed as Santa.

“It just means a lot to me, when you see those little kids in there and how happy they are,” Patton said. “I know that God has blessed our efforts because it is for children,” Patton said. “Children mean a lot to him. I think the better we can take care of our children, the better society we’re going to be.”