Invited by a friend, Cheryl and Nick Hingtgen volunteered last Christmas at Santa's Secret Workshop, where she wrapped gifts for children and he helped needy parents and grandparents take the gifts to their car.
The couple noticed no Christmas stockings accompanied Christmas gifts that Santa's Secret Workshop, one of several ministries of St. Paul Children's Foundation in East Tyler, gave for the children.
So they spent nine months making a thousand Christmas stockings for Santa's Secret Workshop to hand out this Christmas with other children's gifts that parents and grandparents raising grandchildren receive. The stockings are for all ages, from newborn babies to 18-year-olds.
The front of each stocking bears different Christmas designs, such as snowmen and Christmas trees, while the back is plain. The stockings, which are lined, are made from fleece, flannel or cotton material. They are about 18 inches long and eight inches wide and can be used over and over for years.
The Hingtgens took advantage of after-Christmas sales last January when they purchased the material by the bolt, giving it, along with their labor, to the project. They do not know how much they spent. It does not matter because, they said, it was a good cause.
"We liked how St. Paul's was doing Secret Santa. We are both retired. We thought this (making the stockings) is something we could do. It was just something we wanted to do," Mrs. Hingtgen said.
"We didn't know they were going to do this until they called sometime after the first of the year and told us the surprise that they wanted to do this," said Melissa Brigman, a member of the board for St. Paul Children's Foundation, who had the idea to start Santa's Secret Workshop in 2009.
"I am completely overwhelmed by their generosity. I am so thankful for Cheryl and Nick's gift of love. When I saw the stockings for the first time, I literally was filled with joy because these are beautiful," Ms. Brigman said.
Families that need extra help providing Christmas gifts for children are referred to Santa's Secret Workplace by the foundation's various ministries - a food pantry, a clothes closet, a children's dental clinic and a children's medical clinic, as well as by other nonprofit agencies.
Invitation letters are being mailed now to come at a certain time and pick out gifts at Santa's Secret Workshop. Parents and grandparents will come after work or while their children are in school.
Appointments are made so they will have time to look around and not be rushed.
There are shelves and shelves and shelves of new toys suitable for all ages that have been donated by businesses, schools, toy drives and others in the community. Nothing is used.
The parents and grandparents get to pick three gifts for each one of their children in December. After they make their selections, Santa's elves – volunteers – will wrap everything for the parents and place it in big black bags so it can be hidden and children will not see.
In addition to the gifts, each family also receives a new Bible for each child and a bookcase made by a member of Marvin United Methodist Church.
"Every year the parents or grandparents are so appreciative," Ms. Brigman said. "There's a great sense of dignity that goes with it, that they get to make a choice and get what their children love. They leave with smiles on their faces and know they have something special to give their children at Christmas."
About 15 volunteers per shift man Santa's Secret Workshop. Volunteers from all walks of life check people in, show parents and grandparents where gifts for certain ages are located, wrap gifts and carry them to the car. The first year, 90 volunteers were required. This year, about 500 volunteers are expected to help and Santa's Secret Workshop will assist approximately 175 families.
"We try to have ways that everyone can do something to help," Ms. Brigman said.
From 50 to 100 volunteers from Marvin Church showed up Monday night to fill the stockings made by the Hingtgens.
They inserted a sleeve normally used to hold newspapers delivered to homes and stuffed the stockings with candy, crayons, activity books, Christmas toys and hygiene products including a toothbrush and toothpaste. All of the items were donated. Once each stocking was filled, the volunteers took it to a table where someone tied a ribbon at the top to keep anything from slipping out and packed it away.
Valerie Smith came with her kids to stuff stockings because she tries to do several things during the Christmas season to remind them that not everybody is blessed with the things they have.
Leslie Ring said she brought her grandchildren to experience an activity that would give them an opportunity to share their Christian faith.
The Hingtgens, who have volunteered to work in Santa's Secret Workshop again this year, are looking forward to seeing parents and grandparents pick up the stockings at Santa's Secret Workshop and wish they could see children's faces on Christmas morning.
"Knowing they are going to be enjoying these stockings at Christmas time is the satisfaction we get out of it," Mrs. Hingtgen said.
The couple had an assembly line while making the stockings. Using a pattern, she cut out and sewed the stockings on a sewing machine. He put the lining in and turned them right side out and then she sewed the cuff.
"It was fun doing it in our spare time," Mrs. Hingtgen said. "We enjoyed it. It was very relaxing. You could do it watching TV. You didn't have to think about it. After doing so many, you could probably do it in your sleep."