MARIETTA - Wendy Ketelsen was a woman on a mission - a Christmas shopping mission, that is.
She had been walking the aisles of Walmart in Marietta since early afternoon Thursday, at the ready to snag gift items for the children whose names she had with her.
Right down to her sturdy white tennis shoes, Ketelsen was dressed for shopping comfort.
Photo by Sharon Bopp
Wendy Ketelsen, shopping coordinator for the Secret Santa program at Washington-Morgan Community Action in Marietta, loads Christmas goodies for boys and girls into her van after an afternoon of shopping.
"My legs and my feet hurt by the end of the day," admitted Ketelsen, shopping coordinator for Washington-Morgan Community Action's Secret Santa program.
In one of the two shopping carts she pushed was Ketelsen's well-used black notebook called "Wendy's Secret Santa Folder."
Her folder held the names - and holiday wish lists - of some of the children whose families are participating in the 2012 Secret Santa program, held each year by Washington-Morgan Community Action.
The wish lists are provided by the children and their families. Secret Santa shoppers try their best to find those items or a substitute that works, said Ketelsen.
For 2012, the Christmas wishes of 633 children in Washington County ages birth through 12 will be granted, according to Catherine Rees, Secret Santa program coordinator.
The number of children assisted by the Secret Santa program was higher in 2011, Rees said.
"It just depends on donations and sponsorships (each year)," she added.
Rees said she sees the Secret Santa program as an "incredible reward" for helping those who need a helping hand at Christmastime.
"When I was a child, Christmas was a special time with family," she said. "I can't imagine a child who wouldn't have that special Christmas."
Back at the store, Ketelsen was manning two shopping carts like a true professional.
Loaded into the carts were lots of goodies for boys and girls including a pair of board games, two skateboards, a set of Matchbox cars, fingerpaints, a mood light, Legos and a "Barbie the Popstar" Barbie.
As Ketelsen rolled up to register 21 for checkout, Jennifer, the sales associate, greeted her with a warm smile and called Ketelsen by her first name.
"I see her at Walmart a couple of times a year," said Jennifer, who has worked at the store for 10 years.
The gifts are arranged into piles that are separated according to family, with all the coordinating paperwork on the top of each pile.
As checkout is done, each stack of gifts is whooshed into a numbered black garbage bag.
"That way, the gifts are hidden from the children (at pickup time)," said Ketelsen.
Thursday's total shopping bill rang up at about $850.
On an earlier Secret Santa buying binge for this year's children, Ketelsen and volunteers from her church's youth group did a power shopping trip that tipped the register at more than $4,000, she said.
A couple of excited elves at Washington-Morgan Community Action have also lent their shopping talents to the Secret Santa program.
"It's just a good opportunity to give back to the community," said Susan Henrie, staff accountant.
"Once you read the list you think of the kids as almost your own. You want them to be happy on Christmas," she added.
It's also about the children for Rachel Shipley, director of Head Start and Early Head Start.
"I love kids," Shipley said. "A lot of those children are served by our Head Start program. We know we've been part of that behind the scenes, and it just fills your heart."
Ketelsen dropped off the bags Thursday at the program's Marietta distribution center.
After being wrapped, the bagged gifts will be stored until pickup time on Dec. 11 and 12.
To learn how to donate to the Secret Santa program, call Washington-Morgan Community Action at (740) 373-3745.