ELDERSBURG - So you think you know what it's like to Christmas shop on a limited budget?
Try doing it with only $4.
That's exactly what Melissa Hennessy and Lindsay Rada had to spend as they walked into the Eldersburg Elementary School's annual Santa Shop on a bright, chilly Wednesday morning.
The PTA-sponsored Santa Shop, which has been at the school annually for nearly 15 years, Principal Richard Hanson said, was set up in a little room not far from his office.
There, the two girls and the rest of their kindergarten class had a chance to participate in a miniaturized form of a rite that is so much a part of our holiday season -- Christmas shopping.
The Santa Shop offered a glittering variety of simple, yet enticing, craft items made specially for this event by the parents.
These included Christmas and other ornamental knickknacks, such as potpourri baskets, Christmas tree decorations, candles and hanging door ornaments, plus berets and bracelets woven with brightly colored yarn and beads.
In this colorful array, the youngsters could find something for each family member.
They could even shop for their pets, selecting from a variety of pet foods and bones -- all festively wrapped, of course.
And unlike those of us whose Jan. 1 credit card balances resemble the national debt, Melissa and Lindsay paid in cash and had money left over.
The most expensive items in the Santa Shop inventory cost only $2. Most could be bought for a quarter.
Elaine Lambert, who headed the event this year, said that's the beauty of it all.
"Most of the kids don't have the money at their disposal to buy traditional things. This really helps them out," said Lambert, an Eldersburg resident.
The parents made most of the items at November workshops at the school.
Lambert, who helped teach the workshops, said those parents make the enterprise a success.
"They have been very supportive," said Lambert, a transplanted Californian in her first year as event coordinator. "A lot of parents donate supplies and have made crafts in great quantities.
All told, she said, parents made about 3,400 items for the affair.
Hanson likes the fact that parents, not outside vendors, supply the items.
"At other events like this, the items tend to be too pricey. Here, things are more from the heart than from the wallet," he said.
Money raised from the Santa Shop goes toward books and other educational materials for the children. Every class in the school gets a half-hour to shop during the three-day event.
Organizers continually restock the tables to ensure the availability of items at all prices as each new class arrives. To avoid running out too quickly, students can buy only four items apiece.
But some of the more popular merchandise vanished very quickly after Melissa and Lindsay's class of 27 gleefully descended on the tables, atop which the items were carefully arranged by price.
Boys' stop watches, at $1 apiece, disappeared in seconds.
The table with 25-cent items resembled a beehive. Lambert had to help attendant Linda Price, who was overwhelmed with customers.
"My son bought me a hanging door chime," Price said above the din.
"He said he wanted me to have one I didn't have to make myself," laughed Price, who had helped make some of the merchandise.
Even at their tender ages, many youngsters carefully studied items before spending that precious quarter or 50 cents.
"They really think about it.
They buy those gifts with love, that's for sure," said kindergarten teacher Sue Sanner as her class' allotted half-hour wound down.
During that time, both Melissa and Lindsay had taken care of their family gift needs -- along with perhaps a knickknack or two for themselves.
And each had a dollar plus change left over.
But a little boy standing next to them at the table already understood what it will be like in years to come, when gifts become a little more expensive.
"All I have is a few pennies left," he said.