About 1 p.m. Wednesday, Topeka USD 501 superintendent Tiffany Anderson mysteriously disappeared for about two hours from the district.
Luckily, in her place came Mrs. Claus, as she made her rounds around the USD 501 preschoolers and kindergarteners enjoying the shopping trip of their short lifetimes at Kohl’s.
For the past several years, staffers from Advisors Excel have taken students in need from the district on holiday shopping trips to the department store.
While the trips are paid for on the financial adviser marketing company’s dime, staffers from the company love to volunteer for the annual holiday shopping trips, and they compete for the limited slots, said Tracy Khounsavanh Killough, director of community engagement for Advisors Excel.
“They just love being able to spend time with the kids,” Khounsavanh Killough said. “It’s really all about joy. … Our hope is that it spreading kindness, love and supporting our community, we can make a big difference for these kids, and that it’s a moment that sticks with them forever.”
About 120 students, from preschool to high school, will receive shopping trips this year. Khounsavanh Killough said that in her experience, younger kids naturally pick more items from the toy section, while older students may pick more necessary items like clothes or even outfits for job and college interviews.
Wednesday, though, was younger children from a few of the district’s elementary schools, and Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus each prowled around the toys section, handing out hugs, smiles and sweet candy canes to beaming students.
It’s all the students are able to talk about for weeks when they return to their schools and tell their friends about their awesome experiences, said Eva Yerkes, a counselor at Ross Elementary.
“This is just such a big blessing to our school,” Yerkes said. “Any help like this is, and our school’s families and parents are just so grateful that others in the community are willing to do this.”
Devin Seats, help desk support specialist at Advisors Excel, helped Javon Timley, a first-grader at Ross Elementary, hunt through the back corner of Kohl’s for toys not only for himself, but also for his siblings.
Seats said the opportunity to help Javon shop was particularly impactful for him, since he has a 6-year-old of his own.
“You get to have such a direct impact on the kids, and they get to experience something amazing,” Seats said. “It’s just great to see the smiles on their faces.”