No lap around the mall perimeter would be complete without a serious discussion with Santa Claus about getting on the “nice” list, treating yourself to a holiday milkshake at Chick-Fil-A or a grateful stop at the Second Chance gift-wrapping station — especially if making presents pretty isn’t your strong suit, says Susan Shipman, executive director of Second Chance, a domestic violence advocacy group in Anniston.
“That’s why people come to us. Either they don’t have the time to, don’t want to, or are no good at wrapping presents,” Shipman said.
The volunteers are more than just real-life elves, though. Through the gift-wrapping fundraiser, which has been occurring for more than a decade, the domestic violence advocacy organization is able to spread the word to the public and recruit even more help to assist with their needs next year.
“Because we have been out in the community and have such great exposure at the mall, we pick up a whole lot of doers beyond just … wrapping the gifts and sticking the bows,” said Shipman.
It’s an intense labor of love that Second Chance board member and retired social worker Linda West has been involved with for the past three years. This year, however, marks her first as the volunteer coordinator for the annual event, which begins the day after Thanksgiving and continues through Christmas Eve. West actually became involved with the event after mulling over the idea of opening up a gift-wrapping business with her sister.
“I saw they needed volunteers and I thought, well this would be a good way to find out if I would like doing this,” she said of rolling up her sleeves and rolling out the wrapping paper. “I fell in love — which I thought I would.”
The organization itself has been a fixture in the community since 1988 and opened up its first shelter two years later in order to provide a safe haven for victims of domestic violence and their families. Second Chance has a thrift store and receives donations throughout the year, but the gift-wrapping fundraiser is their largest activity.
“Grants cover a lot of things,” West said. “But there’s things that people just don’t think about,” including household items like laundry detergent and diapers. “When those ladies come with their kids they have just what’s on their back.”
Some women who have been in an unfortunate situation use this fundraiser as a time to support Second Chance, either by getting their packages wrapped or by giving their time.
“We get a lot of ladies that have been abused and really haven’t talked about it,” she said. “They just want to say ‘You know I’ve been there and I appreciate the help and I want to give back.’”
Beyond just curling ribbon though, it’s been West’s experience that some patrons need an ear to listen about what’s going on in their lives — “Not just abuse, but anything,” she said.
Take for instance, a heartbroken man who stopped by after having his engagement broken off. He came to the mall just to clear his head, but West was able to offer him wisdom — and then some.
“I spent about 45 minutes with him talking,” West said. “God only knows if that might have brightened his day or whatever, but at least when he left he was smiling.”
This year, Second Chance has enlisted the help of more than 300 volunteers. Shifts are still available, but as the calendar inches closer to Christmas, it’s every volunteer for themselves.
“It’s a scream — and Christmas Eve is just a chaotic madhouse,” said Shipman. “We’re helping people out of that chaos for that day, and I can’t imagine our not doing this.”