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Socially Distanced Holiday Shops

Concerns over COVID-19 don’t have to derail your plans for a school holiday shop this winter.

by Emily Graham


School holiday shops—where students purchase Christmas or Hanukkah gifts for family members—typically take place in November or December. This year, the spread of COVID-19 and social distancing requirements have many PTOs and PTAs rethinking their in-person events for fall; however, if your group is thinking about running a holiday shop, you have several safe options.

Traditional, in-school holiday shops can be modified to meet a school’s social distancing requirements. In addition, several school holiday shop vendors are offering a touchless option and a virtual option in 2020. Whatever school looks like in your community in the fall, your parent group has options for running a holiday shop as a fundraiser or as a service to students.

Holiday shop how-to! Choosing a vendor, getting organized, and lots of promotional tools

Traditional School Holiday Shops

In past years, holiday shops have typically been held for a week, with teachers taking their students to the shop at assigned times. Because young students often need help selecting gifts or staying within their budget, volunteers may serve as personal shoppers to help students.

Before choosing an in-school holiday shop, make sure you’re aware of your school’s policy on volunteers visiting school. In some districts, volunteers won’t be allowed in school buildings as part of COVID-19 precautions. If that’s the case in your district, consider an alternative to a traditional holiday shop.

Touchless Option

Schools are making a lot of changes for the 2020-21 school year to prevent students from sharing school supplies, classroom manipulatives, and even class snacks, so it makes sense that your principal might not agree to students touching merchandise in a holiday shop.

A touchless holiday shop allows students who are attending classes in person at school to look at a display of merchandise and place their orders. The gifts are delivered to students in their classrooms, assuring families that the items haven’t been handled excessively.

If you’re thinking about holding a touchless holiday shop, ask your vendor how many adults will be needed to staff the shop.

Virtual Option

A virtual holiday shop allows students to select gifts and pay for them online. The items are shipped to kids’ homes, making it a good option for schools that offer online classes in fall as well as for schools staggering schedules to have fewer students in the building each day.

Getting Started

The first step in planning a 2020 holiday shop is to talk with your principal about school or district rules related to COVID-19. Ask your principal and holiday shop vendors for advice on minimizing the risk of COVID-19, and follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on disinfection and social distancing.

Just as school districts are making contingency plans for the fall semester in case the spread of COVID-19 results in school closures, PTOs should make backup plans for their fall events, too. If you choose a vendor for an in-school holiday shop, ask what options your group will have if officials later close schools in your area. You may be able to change to a virtual shop or reschedule your holiday shop for the spring semester, allowing students to buy gifts for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day.

If your school building will be open in fall, think about holding an in-person holiday shop or ask about a touchless option where students can preview gifts in person but won’t handle the merchandise. If your school is open but student schedules will be staggered, with students learning online on some days, you may want to hold a traditional holi­day shop that lasts longer than one week so all students can visit it. A virtual holiday shop option would work well for schools offering families the choice between in-person and online learning in the fall semester. If your school building will be closed in fall, you won’t be able to set up a traditional holiday shop or have students preview merchandise for a touchless shop. Ask your vendor if students can place orders online and have merchandise shipped to their homes.

Communicate With Families

Students love buying gifts for family members (including cats and dogs) through school holiday shops. Depending on how many people and pets they shop for, students may be able to buy all their gifts for $10 or $20.

While that’s just a fraction of the amount families typically spend on the holidays, keep in mind that a lot of families will have tighter budgets this year because of job losses. With a school holiday shop (and any school fundraiser), remind parents about how participating will benefit students and the school.

If you choose to run a holiday shop as a fundraiser, tell families how you’ll use the profits—for example, for a field trip fund for students in need or to purchase art supplies. If you remind families what your parent group does and how it supports the school, they’ll be more likely to support your efforts.

Originally posted in 2020 and updated regularly.

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