A 20-year Christmas tradition returned to Halls on Saturday as some 200 kids and as many helpers descended on the Halls Kmart to shop for presents. The youngsters were selected through the Salvation Army, and the volunteers ranged from Weigel’s senior management to folks who just started coming and now can’t stop.
Helen York is retired, but she has volunteered for five years. Helen said her daughter is a store manager for Weigel’s and that’s how she got involved.
Weigel’s Family Christmas starts with breakfast. Each child gets a $150 gift card and is paired with an adult volunteer who shops with the youngster. Purchases are the child’s choice and can be gifts for others or personal items like sneakers or a bike.
The items are checked out by Kmart staff and bagged by volunteers like Louis Hardy, who secure the bags with a tag with each kid’s number. Volunteers from Krispy Kreme load the bags onto a doughnut truck for delivery to the Salvation Army. The kids board school buses for the trip back downtown and a hot lunch. A smaller Krispy Kreme truck carried shiny bicycles and large items not easily bagged.
Bill Weigel says his biggest concern is losing a child. “We’ve got this down like clockwork, but I always worry about losing somebody.” So, he stands by the door at checkout time, counting noses and offering high fives as the kids board the buses.
According to the company website, Weigel and two of his children started the Weigel’s Family Christmas in 1999 with six kids and a $600 donation. Weigel, now 80, said he looks forward to the shopping event each year and cannot stop. He’s served on the board of directors for the local Salvation Army for about 40 years.
John Pickert, district manager of Kmart, said Weigel has already asked about coming back next year. Pickert said the Halls Kmart is growing and, “We appreciate how our customers support this store.”
So, Weigel’s has at least two Christmas traditions – seasonal eggnog so thick that it walks out of the jug and the Kmart shopping event that ensures a special Christmas for 200 kids and their families.