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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

December 9, 2007

Holiday Shopping

This year, I promised myself, wouldn’t be like other years.

I wouldn’t be enticed by the ads and the sales and wake up before dawn the day after Thanksgiving to try to put as big a dent as possible for as little money as possible in my Christmas shopping list.

Instead, I plan to do much of it online, the rest in a few short, well-organized trips — preferably early in the morning or late at night, when the stores aren’t so crowded.

No more standing in lines for hours for me.

So instead, what did I do the day after Thanksgiving — besides sleeping until after the sun came up?

Went shopping.

But I didn’t hit the mall, ready to do battle for the latest must-have toy.

Instead, my husband, my mom and the kids and I made a visit to the St. Vincent de Paul store in Manitowoc, Wis., where my mom volunteers on a weekly basis.

We went in search of inexpensive ice skates ($3) and in-line skates (free, because they have so many) for Caroline, and were successful.

But we found so much more: bags of Christmas ornaments (50 cents a bag) to replace some of those my in-laws lost when the basement flooded last summer; a new manger and nativity scene figures to replace those lost at the same time ($8 total); two ties that my husband has since worn to work (25 cents each); a paperback book to read on the drive home from Wisconsin (25 cents); an outfit that Caroline pulled together on her own from various racks ($3, total).

All in all, we ended up with a cart full of items, and tab of $28.60. We did have to wait behind one person at the register (it was big shopping day at the St. Vincent de Paul store too), but it was fun to watch the other shoppers: women looking for bargains on holiday decorations, teenagers looking for the cool retro clothes, a mother-daughter pair looking for a formal dress for the girl.

St. Vincent de Paul stores have a twofold purpose: to make money to support the work of the organization, whose members provide direct service to people in need, by visiting them in their homes, and to provide an inexpensive source of clothing and household goods for people on limited budgets.

For Frank, and especially for Caroline, it was also one of the highlights of Thanksgiving weekend: A place where their money would go far, and where we were more likely to say yes than no to requests. Frank wants a bag of blue ornaments? And a bag of purple ornaments? Why not?

It offered the fun of hunting for items — no racks of identical clothes in a variety of sizes; it’s purely a matter of what happens to be there at the time — and of pulling together things that came from a variety of different closets into one coherent outfit. What’s not for a budding fashionista to like?

I think maybe we just started a new holiday shopping tradition in our family.

If you want to check it out for yourself, the Archdiocese of Chicago has two St. Vincent de Paul stores at 9321 S. Western Ave. (open Monday and Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; (773) 881-0600 and 4644 W 147th St. in Midlothian (open Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.).

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].