VELVA Members of United Methodist Church, in Velva, are getting ready for an annual event The Elf Project.
This year the event will be on Dec. 3 in the lower level of the church. Children, who are in Grade 6 or under, will be allowed to shop from 10 a.m. until noon while their parents enjoy coffee and cider in the church. From noon to 2 p.m. anyone can come in and shop, even adults. Prices for the gifts range from 50 cents to $5.
Four years ago one of the church members was cleaning her home and came across a small Home Interior chipmunk figurine. She told some of the other ladies of the church of her find and how it was too good to throw away, but still she didn't know what else to do with it.
Abby Pederson, left, and her sister, Paven Pederson, both of Velva, and members of United Methodist Church, were able to shop during The Elf Project in 2010.
After some discussion the ladies decided to hold an event where items like the chipmunk could be regifted and The Elf Project, a store where children could buy Christmas gifts for family, friends and themselves, was born.
"You never know what will be there," Lori Brudevold, one of the founders of the project, said. The organizers start gathering items for the store in October and work nights are scheduled. That's when the items are sorted and cleaned. The women also check to make sure things work and that all parts of the toys are included. They also replace batteries so there are no disappointments when gifts are opened.
Time to shop
People who would like to donate items to The Elf Project may drop them off at Back-to-Back Chiropractic Clinic, 1050-31st Ave. SW, in Minot, or call Lori Brudevold at 626-1577.
Gifts for everyone, especially men and teenagers, will be accepted.
Donations of batteries and wrapping materials are also welcome.
"We've had everything from necklaces and earrings, to candles and decorations, tools for dad, gloves, pictures and pet supplies. Baby toys, games and books can also be found," she added.
Some of the donated items are put into a basket with similar items and tied up with cellophane to create a gift basket. Some popular gift baskets for teenagers include movie rental tickets, microwave popcorn and a bottle of soda.
Clothing items are discouraged, Brudevold said, unless it's something new and in style. Hats, mittens and scarf sets are great to have in the store though.
When the children come to shop they are given a list of some people they might choose to buy gifts for. Their mother and father help them fill out the list and a volunteer "elf" helps them shop. The elves like to know about how much money each child has to spend, making it easier to help the children with their purchases.
"The first year, it was small and we anticipated pretty much only Velva kids and that's about what we got," Brudevold said. The proceeds from that year's event, about $800, went toward some carpeting and painting at the church.
The next year there were more children present, including some children from Sawyer. Last year youth from Butte, Drake, Anamoose, Minot and other surrounding towns were there.
"We are anticipating a really big year again," Brudevold said. "Kids can come in with $10 and be done with their shopping. They leave with an armload of gifts."
After the children are finished shopping in the store, which is divided into areas for men, women, babies, children, teens, pets and holiday decor, they take their purchases upstairs where elves wrap the gifts for them. In 2010 the Girl Scouts in Velva stepped up and asked to be a part of the project.
The children go home with their gifts all wrapped and tagged and ready to put under the tree.
About 150 kids shopped in the store last year, Brudevold said. "I know we wrapped about 450 gifts."
"I think The Elf Project has been a huge blessing for the community," Geoff Hilton, who serves as lay pastor at the church, said. "I am glad that our church has been able to provide the service not only for the community of Velva, but also for surrounding communities.
"The money that has been raised has been used for many different things secret Santa gifts, Salvation Army donations and to help families who needed help over the Christmas season," Hilton said. "It's awesome that with what we've received, we've been able to help so many other people. That's a message from the Gospel share the message with others by sharing the love of Jesus."
Things that don't work for the Elf Project are regifted to Domestic Violence, Restore or any such place in Minot that can use it, she added.
"One of the neat things that has come from the Elf Project is the Sunday after the Elf Project, or shortly after the event, $20 bills are handed out to anyone who is in church," Brudevold said. The money that is handed out is the proceeds of the event.
"It was decided to give the money to people who come to church to go out do something good, to pay it back to the community,"
Brudevold said. "It's their choice whether they want to donate the money, if they want to add to it, if they want to give $10 to Salvation Army and $10 the Firemen's Fund, or if they want to put it back in the collection plate. They can also donate to the Domestic Violence Fund, Habitat for Humanity or the nursing home. We just want the money to go back into the community," she said.
Brudevold added the event didn't start out to be a fundraising project. It started out to be a project where kids could come and shop, a place where those youth could have ownership in what they purchased.
All the wrapping paper is donated, as are the tags, ribbons and bows. The teachers have been really good about donating gift bags and this year the Velva school children will be decorating brown grocery bags to make them look festive and they'll be used as gift bags too, Brudevold said.
"We've had some families who are very appreciative," Brudevold said. "Some of them have three or four children and taking them to a retail store to shop would be a great expense for them," she added.
"All of a sudden we had money and didn't know what to do with it, which is a good problem to have," Brudevold said with a chuckle.
She added, "It's a good feeling to be involved in the Elf Project. No one has gone away unfulfilled. It has been so rewarding. No one person is responsible for it. It has just bloomed. We decided we could be little elves to the kids in the community and offer them a place where they could come and shop for gifts for their family and friends for a very reasonable amount."
The project has added "life" to the Methodist congregation in Velva and has grown over the years, Brudevold said. "We have actually turned away volunteers. Everybody wants to be involved. It's marvelous. Who can say they turn away volunteers and give away money?"
Comments from the shoppers
Payton, 7 I liked shopping at the church because I got my dad a new saw!
Halle, 8 I bought presents for everyone and my dog Molly.
Jacob, 10 It is a fun way to shop and not use all my money.
Brianna, 9 Your friend or the person you are shopping for never knows what you bought and it is fun and exciting.
Bryce, 8 You can buy for your family and it is fun.