Early this week, one of Areva Griffin’s seven children climbed in her lap and asked a question.
“Is Santa Claus coming to our house this year,” Griffin said with a smile. “And praise the Lord, I was able to tell her, ‘Yes! Santa is coming to our house this year.’”
Santa is going to visit many Eastern Jackson County homes as the Community Services League’s annual Christmas store opened early Thursday morning and greeted more than 1,000 people who had signed up to visit the closest thing to Santa’s North workshop this side of the North Pole.
Griffin, who has grown children, now raises a 2-year-old she recently adopted, along with six other children, many of who are part of her foster family, and the Community Services League Christmas store helps make Dec. 25 a special day for her ever-expanding family.
“At my house, you have to believe in something,” Griffin said. “And I want my children to believe in Santa. I believe in Santa. When you come here, to this amazing store, with people like Miss Melodie, you have to believe in the Christmas spirit.
“You might not see him, but I know Santa is here. He has to be!”
Miss Melodie is Community Services League Vice President of Income Support Melodie Chrisman, who personally greets every person as they grab a shopping bag and visit the tables that offer goodies for youngsters aged 0-4, 5-9, 1-13, teens, adults, small families and large families.
There are tables for boys and girls and an array of gifts that are constantly restocked.
And if they don’t have a tree?
“No problem,” Chrisman said, “because we have trees, ornaments, gift wrapping paper and batteries – yes, we make sure that every gift that needs batteries has them taped to the box so that the children can play with them right after they open the package.”
It was difficult to tell who was having more fun on this brisk December morning, Griffin or Chrisman.
“This is my favorite day of the year,” Chrisman said. “It’s like celebrating an early Christmas.”
Griffin nodded in agreement.
“We could provide a gift for each of the children in our house,” Griffin said, “but we could not have a Christmas like the one we are going to enjoy it if wasn’t for this Christmas store and people like Miss Melodie.”
“This is the second time I have shopped at this store, and it is such a blessing. Like I said before, Santa is his. His spirit is here. I can feel it.”
So can Community Services League CEO Doug Cowan, who was busy directing shoppers to the tables that would help fulfill their Christmas wishes.
“We had 400 more people register this year than last year,” Cowan said, “and look around here. We have more gifts than ever before and it is because of the generosity of the people of Blue Springs and Eastern Jackson County.”
“We can’t thank them enough. … This is just one of the most inspiring days of the year for me. I can’t stop smiling.”
Neither can Jim Bozarth, a former Fort Osage High School basketball coach who has been organizing and volunteering at the Christmas store for 18 years.
“Jim won’t tell you anything, but I will,” Chrisman said, in a hushed tone. “He’s our Christmas angel. He doesn’t want any recognition, but he helps organize and put all the toys and gifts on the tables.”
“We bring everything here, and wow - all the toys for little kids are on that table, all the cookware is on that table and all the ornaments are over there. And that’s all Jim.”
Bozarth, who is following an elderly participant around the store, carrying her goodie-filled bag, grins when told Chrisman calls him her Christmas angel.
“I don’t know about that,” he said, with a chuckle, “I just know I’ve been doing this a long time and we have helped a lot of people at Christmas. And that’s what the Community Services League and this store are all about.”