“FYI: For Your Information,” New Era, Dec. 1986, 40–43
The manner of giving shows the character of the giver, more than the gift itself.
—Johann Kaspar Lavater
by Nellie Wendel
Once every five years, the magic happens. All the children in the Centerville Utah Fifth Ward come to the meetinghouse a few days before Christmas. They stand outside the cultural hall, almost jumping with excitement as they wait to be ushered into the most remarkable store in the world.
Inside the store there are tables filled with toys, dolls, books games and trains. There are bikes and trikes by the walls, shiny and clean. There are bracelets and necklaces, neckties and stuffed animals, roller skates and ice skates, even a record player or two.
Yes, everything’s for sale. And nothing, except the bicycles, costs more than 25 cents. But the real magic of the Christmas store is that it isn’t run to make money. It’s run to help children share in the joy of giving.
For the first hour, only Primary-age children are allowed to shop in the store. The teenagers in the ward accompany them and help them think through what would make good presents for fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers. Parents aren’t allowed to see what the children choose. One grandmother was surprised when the very salt shakers she had donated were given to her as a gift!
The basic idea of the Christmas store is that nobody—especially children—should have to spend a lot of money buying gifts. After all, the purpose of Christmas is to celebrate Christ’s birth. And the gifts are to remind us of the presents he was given as a baby, of the teachings he gave us to be kind and to share, and especially to remind us of the gift he gave—his life—so that we might live. No one should be excluded from the wonderful feeling that comes from giving, from thinking of others before ourselves.
Everything available at the store has been donated. Some things are homemade, some are brand-new, some are used but in good condition, some have been reconditioned and repaired.
Of course, the store wouldn’t succeed without the support of everyone in the ward. But the youth play a particularly important part. Last year, for example, they canvassed the ward in October, letting everyone know they were looking for anything a child could give as a gift. The response, as always, was overwhelming. Some people donated brand-new toys. Some cleaned out the toy box from their children’s younger days. Some of the high priests got out their woodworking tools and fashioned rocking horses or wooden trains, or used mechanical tools to repair bicycles.
Once a week starting in late November, the youth went with the elders quorum in trucks to gather up the donations. Soon Grant and Helen Keddington’s basement was so full it wouldn’t hold any more, and the surplus stacked up in the bishop’s office for five weeks. High priests and deacons worked side by side, fixing things that were broken. Youth service nights were spent in putting jigsaw puzzles together to check for missing pieces, in cleaning dirty toys, in sewing torn doll clothing, in stacking toys according to the age group that would use them, in attaching price stickers, and in making publicity posters.
The Relief Society and the Young Women joined to host a bake shop, where cakes, candy, doughnuts, and cookies were for sale. Again, proceeds went for the needy. Norm Beers, the Scoutmaster and his son Matthew, 11, ran a projector showing rented cartoons, to keep older children entertained while the younger kids got to shop first. And even Santa Claus heard about the store, taking a break from his work at the North Pole to visit the children and give them a treat.
This latest store, like others before it, was a great success. We filled the entire cultural hall—first with things to buy, then with children, then with teenagers wrapping the gifts. When the children were finished, adults were allowed to shop, too. What money we raised was turned over to the bishop to help people in distress have a little bit merrier Christmas. And when everyone was through, we still took two boxes of toys, books, and clothing to Deseret Industries, so we kept on sharing the spirit of giving.
But most important, we helped the children to learn to think of others, to enjoy the excitement of finding something someone else would like, without spending lots of hard-earned money to get it. Now, we can hardly wait until we have the Christmas store again.
Nichole Wolf of Los Alamos, New Mexico, was one of two students selected from her school to attend the First Annual Youth Who Care conference in Denver. The conference is concerned with encouraging youth to stay drug free. Nichole learned ways to help her peers avoid drugs. She said, “It’s good to see the rest of the world come to know what the Word of Wisdom has been teaching for over 150 years.”
Nichole also enjoys music and art. She takes piano and voice lessons. She has also served as president of her Beehive class.
Just three hours after finishing a Red Cross Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) course, Jon Vallette was able to use the techniques he learned to save his younger brother’s life,
Jon found his 19-month-old brother, Andrew, choking on something. He used the methods taught him in his Red Cross class to dislodge the object. He was about to start artificial respiration when the toddler began to breathe on his own.
Jon received the Red Cross Certificate of Merit, the highest award given by the Red Cross.
Jon has served as the second assistant in his teachers quorum in the Anchorage Fourth Ward, Anchorage Alaska North Stake.
Misty Worley, 16, is learning to talk with her hands. She wanted to be able to communicate with the deaf and hearing impaired students at her high school. She has learned to use her hands to talk with her new friends and would like to continue studying to become an interpreter for the deaf.
Misty enjoys sports and plays center on her school’s girls’ basketball team. She has served as Mia Maid president in the Roanoke Third Ward, Roanoke Virginia Stake.
Two LDS students from Katy, Texas, were ranked as National Merit finalists from their school district. Alisa Daugherty and Michelle Lesué both received high grades and scored well on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Tests.
Alisa served as secretary of the student council and participated in several clubs, including drama and speech, and the debate team. She attended early-morning seminary and served as Laurel class president.
Michelle played the flute in the high school band. She was also on the track team. In addition, she was named the recipient of the DAR Good Citizen Award. She also attended early-morning seminary and served as the president of her Young Women classes.
Michelle said, “The level of academic achievement I’ve reached is directly related to all the encouragement and guidance I’ve received in church. The gospel has helped me see the importance of excellence.”
Jeff Womble of Dalhart, Texas, was named an award winner in history and government by the United States Achievement Academy.
Jeff is an excellent student and has been on the semester honor rolls of his junior high. He is the president of the deacons quorum in the Dalhart Branch, Amarillo Texas Stake.
At six feet, four inches, Michael Montgomery is often head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd, but in other ways, he has proven his ability to succeed.
Mike is active in academics, athletics, student government, and music. He was in honor society, played varsity basketball and tennis, served as student-body president, and sang solos in school and civic musical productions.
In the Tullahoma Ward, Chattanooga Tennessee Stake, Mike served as first assistant in his priests quorum and as seminary president.
by Spencer Garvey
What Christmas activity do you look forward to most? The Christmas caroling party? The family Christmas dinner? Seeing your mom open the Christmas present you’ve been slaving over for months?
The youth in the Orem 15th Ward, Orem Utah Sharon West Stake, have a unique activity that they think tops all others. It combines the joy of giving with the beauty of service, and capsulizes the message the Savior brought to earth. All by themselves, the youth throw a Christmas party for the mentally handicapped adults in the ward.
Within the ward boundaries are two group homes, sponsored by the American Fork Training School. Residents of the homes, one for women and one for men, have reached a certain level of achievement, and are free to go to church and participate in ward activities. Their favorite activity by far is the annual Christmas party, and they anticipate it for months.
The youth go all out to make it an exciting experience for their special guests. Each class takes charge of one aspect of the evening, from festively decking the cultural hall, to setting up chairs, to planning games and making sure each person from the group homes receives a gift. They buy things that the guests of honor have requested like slippers, books, dominoes, and tapes.
But the preparation is only half the fun. The real excitement starts when the guests arrive, and smiles light their faces brighter than any bulbs on the Christmas tree. The youth in the ward get busy mingling and making sure that nobody stands alone.
“It’s worth it to see their smiles,” said Becky Lant, 16, who was in charge of the affair. “This helps us learn the happiness you get from serving others, and helps us learn to love those we serve.”
Soon everyone becomes involved in a game. The guests joyfully bowl plastic pop bottles over with a basketball. With delighted energy, they throw a soft football through a tire suspended from a basketball standard. The youth are quick to make sure that everyone feels like a winner, even in musical chairs.
“They always come to our basketball or volleyball games and support us,” says Jeff Nelson, 16. “This is the least we can do for them in return. They’re special, they’re nice, and they deserve it.”
But at no time is the Christmas spirit so evident as when everyone in the group sits down together, arms intertwined, and starts singing Christmas carols. As they sing about the wonders of the birth of Christ, the youth and the guests seem to exchange intangible gifts of friendship and caring with each other and with the Savior at the same time.
Later Santa comes bounding in with a bag full of presents. But the gift the guests enjoy most isn’t in the bag. It’s a videotape of the festivities so they can relive them over and over in the coming months.
Soon the party is over, the hugs are hugged, tears of happiness mingle, and Santa leads the way out. His parting cry hangs in the air for all to savor and confirm. “Merry Christmas to all,” he chuckles, “and to all a good night!”