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500 children shop without parents

Emilie Ellis, 4, left, and Addison Ellis, 6, shop for gifts for their relatives at the Christmas Shopping for Kids event held Saturday at the Masonic Temple in Mitchell. (Chris Mueller/Republic)

They may not have quite matched the fervor and pandemonium of Black Friday shoppers, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

Between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, about 500 local children swarmed to the Masonic Temple in Mitchell for Mitchell Main Street & Beyond's annual Christmas Shopping for Kids event.

"It's fun because (parents) don't have to tell you what to get," said Aly Hansen, 11, as she led her younger cousins Kyah Escobin, 10, and Keenah Escobin, 6, around as they shopped for relatives. "And you get to spend all the money you want."

The event gave children 12 or younger the opportunity to shop for Christmas gifts for their parents and relatives. No parents were allowed to accompany their children into the shopping area, which gave kids the chance to shop by themselves or with the help of a volunteer assistant, each of whom was festively referred to as an "elf." Once the kids finished shopping, Davison County 4-H members wrapped their gifts for free.

In all, about 50 volunteers helped out at the event.

"It's a wonderful experience for the kids," said Carrie English, vice president of Mitchell Main Street & Beyond.

The event featured 12 booths run by local businesses, which were stocked with products ranging from soaps, lotions and perfumes to tool sets, clothing and kitchen supplies. Every item sold at the event cost $10 or less.

The event has been held annually for more than a decade, but Mitchell Main Street & Beyond first sponsored it in 2010. In many cases, English said, businesses ask to take part instead of vice versa.

"It's a well-oiled machine," she said. "The vendors are here because it's so enjoyable.

With the shopping in full swing, vendors seemed to share the enthusiasm of their young customers.

"It's always really fun to see the reaction on their face when they're buying stuff for their family," said Traci Stork, behind the table at a booth for Dakota Scents. "It's a little hectic, a little crazy, but it's enjoyable. The kids make it worth it."

At a booth for Cherrybee's Floral and Gifts, Betty Anderson also enjoyed the spirit of the event.

"It's fun watching the kids' minds go when they're shopping," she said.

For waiting parents, the feelings were a bit more mixed. "It's a little scary," said Wendy Figland, sitting in the waiting room while her son Jasper, 6, browsed the booths. "You never know what they're going to come back with."

Figland, the director of the Mitchell Area Safehouse, said the event was a great opportunity for local children.

"It's wonderful to have somewhere safe for your children to go to," she said. And whatever is wrapped up underneath her tree, Figland was pleased her son was able to shop on his own. "He's always so proud," she said.