The Santa Claus Girls organization has a new home to store the gifts it plans to give to needy kids this Christmas.
The volunteer group, which has brightened the holidays for area families for more than a century, had been looking for a new spot to store the toys after the downtown Herald building was sold to the city last year. The Herald had provided free space to Santa Claus Girls for decades.
Hope Church, which owns the Grand Cities Mall, offered a large space on the second floor of the mall.
“We are totally excited and so grateful to get a new home,” said Julie Ekberg, president of Santa Claus Girls. “We are so pumped.”
Whalen’s Moving and Storage moved everything from a packed storage unit in East Grand Forks to the mall, on Monday, Sept. 9, at no charge, Ekberg said.
The 10-by-20-foot storage unit “was packed as tall as you can reach and all the way to the back,” she said. “There’s an aisle in the middle you can walk through straight, but in places you have to walk sideways.”
Four Whalen employees and several Santa Claus Girls volunteers were on hand Monday, Sept. 9, to move the toys, games, books, socks and other items. The Whalen workers are Matt Baril, Deon Paulson, Keaton Gilbertson and Aaron Obregon. Volunteers included Julie and Darrell Ekberg, Marisa Sorenson, Kris Wolff and Karen Bjornseth.
They formed a “sand-bag” line to efficiently and quickly transfer boxes and totes from the truck to the second-story storage room at the mall.
Whalen’s also helped last winter when the Santa Claus Girls had to move inventory out of the Herald building, said Mary Ann Whalen, secretary at the moving business.
Whalen’s chose to offer free services because “we’ve certainly heard about” the Santa Claus Girls, she said. “It’s one of the oldest organizations in the town.”
The business wanted to lend a hand “just to help in the community spirit,” Whalen said.
The Santa Claus Girls will rent space at the Grand Cities Mall, but at a “significantly lower rate” than the group was paying for the East Grand Forks storage unit, Ekberg said.
“We have never had to pay rent before,” Ekberg said. “It was free at the Herald. That was huge. The Herald was wonderful to us.”
The new mall location, which is about 29 feet by 39 feet, is “bigger than what we needed,” but provides temperature and humidity control that is critical to the lifespan of toy batteries.
“It’ll be interesting to see how many (batteries) survived the winter,” she said.
Before gifts are distributed, Santa Claus Girls check the batteries and, if they’re dead, place new ones in the gift bags, she said.
The new storage area also offers benefits in terms of organizing inventory, she said.
“We can divide the room by boys and girls (gifts) and by age -- that makes it so much easier,” especially for finding age- and gender-appropriate gifts at the last minute.
“Last year, Jenny (Ekberg, her daughter) was filling bags on Christmas Eve,” she said.