Cass County Democrat Missourian

Thanks to Bright Futures in Harrisonville, all children enjoy holiday magic

Harrisonville High School student, Savannah Timmons and volunteer Linette Pugh helped a child select presents for her family during the 2017 Bright Futures Holiday Store Event.
Harrisonville High School student, Savannah Timmons and volunteer Linette Pugh helped a child select presents for her family during the 2017 Bright Futures Holiday Store Event. Courtesy photo

Bright Futures Harrisonville and the city’s residents are once again bringing the spirit of Christmas to community children in need of a little boost.

On Dec. 8, Bright Futures will host its fifth annual Holiday Store. Held in conjunction with Christmas on the Square that day, the Holiday Store will offer children an opportunity to shop for gifts for their parents, teachers and other family members.

“The Holiday Store was inspired by people who saw a need in our community and wanted to make sure every child was included in Christmas,” said Deb Welhoff, Holiday Store co-chairwoman since 2014. “Our shoppers can’t wait for Christmas morning. The Store gives them the opportunity to give a gift to those they love, when they might not otherwise be able to give those gifts.”

For the second year, the event will be held at Harrisonville Middle School.

When we started the Holiday Store five years ago, it was a small event held in a single classroom,” said Marcie Milner, Bright Futures advisory board member. “By the third year, we had hour-long lines, it had grown so much. So, we moved into the middle school gym.”

As they did last year, Bright Futures volunteers, Harrisonville Middle and High School students, and members of the community will transform the school’s gym into a fun holiday shopping village before the event.

Each school-aged shopper from the community arrives at the Holiday Store with up to eight tickets to purchase gifts. While parents wait in the cafeteria enjoying hot cocoa and cookies, children will be accompanied by “personal shoppers” to help them select presents for their loved ones, with each gift priced at a single ticket.

Once shopping is complete, the wrapping happens. Wrapping teams include families of home-schooled children, Harrisonville students, church volunteers and others. Once the presents are wrapped, shoppers are reunited with their parents.

“I enjoy watching the kids picking out their gifts and getting them wrapped,” Welhoff said. “They have a little secret now, a wonderful little secret to be part of the magic of Christmas.”

However, Milner remembers one child who did not believe that the Holiday Store “magic” was quite as inclusive as it should be.

“A little boy about 7 came in to shop, and Santa was there to visit after he selected his gifts,” Milner said. “After he went to see Santa, he came back and asked to shop again. He told us he was worried because he saw Santa give presents to everyone, but no one bought any for him. So, he came back and purchased some gifts for Santa.”

The gifts that stock the Holiday Store, which serves more than 100 young shoppers each year, are donated by businesses, organizations and individuals from across Harrisonville. Beginning in November each year, Bright Futures reaches out to the community for donations.

“I love the community of Harrisonville,” Welhoff said. “Our professional community is stellar. They give so much to benefit our kids.

“They open up their doors all year round, not just for the Holiday Store,” Weldhoff said, adding that the community also supports programs like book drives and a back-to-school fair.

“We’re blessed to have a community of churches, businesses, business leaders and volunteers that help make this program and all of Bright Futures work.”

Founded in 2012, Bright Futures Harrisonville offers more than a dozen programs for Harrisonville’s youth.

“The vision of Bright Futures is to serve children in all areas of our community,” Milner said. “We learn what children in our community need and how we can best serve them. Working for this organization makes you think about what you have and what others do not.

“We want to offer things that make a difference in children’s lives and let them know there are people who care about them. What we are giving is a ‘hand up,’ not a ‘hand out.’”

Bright Futures benefits not only the children who receive support from the organization, but those who contribute their time and donations.

“We’re all asked to give back and give to our neighbors and this is one way we’re blessed to be able to do that,” Welhoff said.

Milner agreed.

“Once you give people an opportunity to get involved, they embrace it without even realizing it,” she said.