It all started seven years ago with a boys request to Santa.
The city of Boise was hosting a party at a local community center for kids enrolled in an after-school program. A small Bantu boy, his parents former refugees, sat on Santas lap. He whispered his wish in the big mans ear: a Christmas tree.
A local businessman, Ed Priddy, heard the story and offered to buy trees for everyone in the program, Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway said.
Holloway and Priddy hatched an alternative idea: subsidizing a shopping trip for the children to help them buy what they wanted, or needed, for the holidays.
That first year, 40 boys and girls from low-income homes got to shop.
The program has grown steadily since then. On Thursday, 142 children, all participants in free after-school programs operated by Parks and Rec at community centers and apartment complexes, stormed the aisles of a local Target store.
Each had his or her own volunteer shopper/helper and a $30 gift card, thanks to donations from city employees and the public.
Here are some images from the day:
A scrum of volunteers crowded the front of the store, waiting for the kids to arrive. Volunteers included students from the Acts of Kindness Club at Riverglen Junior High. During the past year, members have organized food and clothing drives and made blankets for children in treatment at the Mountain States Tumor Institute. But everyone was excited about shopping day, said school counselor Kimberly Grosz.
The students werent intimidated by the idea of shepherding kids not much younger than themselves through the store.
Shopping is my gift, said Alicia Moreno, 15.
Her friend Molly Wray, 14, said she could empathize with the young shoppers. She has been through tough times. But this year shes looking forward to the holidays: visiting different relatives houses, playing games and feasting on her Aunt Shellys apple pie.
Its the time of year when everyones getting along, she said.
Volunteer Stacey Buchanan was poised with shopping cart at the ready.
She has helped out at similar programs in the past. The best part, Buchanan said, is the look on the kids faces when they find that one thing. Ive even seen little kids cry. Its a good lesson for all of us.
Sometimes its a challenge helping kids shop if they dont speak English, she said, but she has gotten good at coming up with hand signals for toys or clothes an art form known as shopping charades.
Gavin Haggerty, 8, began his shopping spree by keeping certain rules from his mom in mind: No guns, nothing that shoots and no swords. One possibility was buying her a bracelet. But Gavin also had two cats, Sapphire and Pepper, to worry about. He spotted a small bag of cat toys, an assortment of balls with bells inside. That used up $1.50, leaving $28.50 for the piece de resistance: a battery-powered Batman car.
Yep, this is what I want, said Gavin, plunking the toy in the cart and walking on.
A small girl in pink at the end of the checkout line had a Barbie doll and some mystery items, all sparkly and pink, visible through her plastic shopping bag. Dont look, she told her teacher who was standing nearby. Theres something in here for you.
Michael Huffman, 8, with a crew cut and bundled in a blue-and-orange jacket, wore a necklace of shiny-red Mardi Gras beads.
His response to a volunteers half-joking suggestion that he start his shopping trip in the clothing aisle: No! No underwear for me! Ill go naked!
After sliding his entire body into the bottom shelf of the shopping cart and sticking his tongue out at the ceiling, he slid back out.
With the instinct of a homing pigeon, he guided the cart to the toy aisle.
Ive been waiting for these for a long time, he said, sounding a lot older than 8 as he furrowed his brow before a wall of Bey Wheelz high-tech spinning tops.
He chose two, quickly reaching his $30 limit.
Gavin and Michael made their way to the checkout line with their toys. The trip required going down the girl aisle and past the baby clothes.
I cant even touch pink, said Michael, casting a scornful look at a flowered onesie, then insisting that Gavin should try it on.
Moments later, the boys were transfixed by the Hasbro Twister Dance Game. Michael and Gavin said the toy, which features a picture of Britney Spears on its box, was only for girls.
Then they pressed the try it button on the toy, sampling each song on the playlist and breaking into hip-hop dance moves as other shoppers passed by, deadpan.
Um, you guys might be proving that this toy is not just for girls, said one volunteer.
No, it is, said Michael. But were dancing boy-style.
Anna Webb: 377-6431