Her arms loaded up with holiday gifts, Riverside Middle School eighth-grader Alyssa Warren, 14, was a little dumbfounded Monday morning that she wouldn't go over the $20 she had budgeted to spend for Christmas shopping for her family.
"Oh my gosh, this is so fun," she said while looking over a table topped with potential gifts. "I wouldn't be able to do this anywhere else."
Alyssa was shopping at Riverside's Holiday Set, laid out in the school's library on Monday and Tuesday, which lets the 500-plus students there buy new and gently used items donated to the school as Christmas gifts for their families at deeply discounted prices.
Organized by the school's paraprofessional staff, the sale takes up about half of the library, with more than a dozen tables stacked with hundreds of gifts ranging in price from 50 cents to $8.
The items include a little bit of everything: toys, games, dishes, clothing, pottery, jewelry, kitchen items, household goods, appliances, movies and books, to name a few.
Riverside staff members have been gathering the items for months. Paraprofessional Dana Lippman, who heads up the organizing duties, said the group sent out notices seeking donations to all of School District 2 as well as to parents in the school newsletter.
"Within five minutes of the email going out, we had something like 29 calls to us from people who wanted to help," she said. "It's definitely the most we've had."
For part of one class period, students at Riverside could come to the library and buy any gifts they wanted. Many had the chance to look the tables over Friday, taking note of items they wanted to buy.
That meant that kids in the first group, which came in shortly after 8 a.m. Monday, immediately headed for the items they wanted before wandering the tables.
Alyssa said she was shopping for "the babies," her nickname for her two younger siblings, as well as other family members. She even managed to find a small gift for a teacher at the school.
After paying for the gifts, which included a board game, blankets, a few toys and a bunch of brightly colored pencils (for the teacher), she took the items to the back of the library, where paraprofessionals wrapped the gifts.
"This is so amazing," Alyssa said while waiting. "I can't wait to take this stuff home."
Principal Sharon Tietema said the help from SD2 and the community played an important role in shaping the sale.
"All this stuff is donated, and no adults can buy it," she said. "It's all for the kids."
The school has been holding the sale since the early 2000s. Staffers at the school organized the first one to raise money for a student whose family lost its home in a fire.
Lippman said that, in addition to helping out the student's family, she requested to keeping it going the next year because of the impact it has on the rest of the students.
"I just saw how happy it made the students to be able to do this," she said.