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North Bennington Village School first grader Emily Maikoo shops, with help from third graders Haley Green, Maple VanOrden and Taylor Grogan, at the school’s annual holiday bazaar. (Elizabeth A. Conkey)
North Bennington Village School first grader Emily Maikoo shops, with help from third graders Haley Green, Maple VanOrden and Taylor Grogan, at the
North Bennington Village School first grader Emily Maikoo shops, with help from third graders Haley Green, Maple VanOrden and Taylor Grogan, at the school’s annual holiday bazaar. (Elizabeth A. Conkey)

NORTH BENNINGTON -- On Wednesday morning, Village School of North Bennington students of all ages could be seen shopping away in Nelle Knapp's third-grade classroom, buying gifts for family members during the class's annual Holiday Bazaar.

Knapp said her third-graders have been working hard over the past couple of weeks to organize the bazaar, unpacking and sorting the array of items collected by family members since November.

On Tuesday afternoon, Knapp said her class sorted all of the items into different categories and then onto the tables to prepare for the shoppers who would flock to their classroom for Wednesday's much-anticipated event.

"The bazaar is phenomenal for my third-graders," Knapp said, explaining that the preparation for the event extends far beyond simply setting up the tables for shoppers. "We talk about how to be good salesmen and how to be helpful to the shoppers. It's really something they look forward to doing all year and they learn a lot in the process."

At the school on Wednesday, table after table was covered with gently-used books, toys, dress-up clothes, housewares, jewelry, ties for dads, unopened lotions and perfumes for moms, and even two "big ticket" items: An older Xbox gaming console and Nintendo DS handheld video game.

As items came in throughout the month of November, Knapp began determining the prices for each one.

"When I think about pricing the items, there are really two things playing," Knapp said. "One is that I want the kids to be able to afford the things and have a good time, but I also want to be able to raise some money for these worthy causes."

In existence since 1998, Knapp said the bazaar not only allows students to purchase holiday gifts for loved ones, but also gives them a chance to raise money for charity.

According to Knapp, half of the money raised from the annual event is donated to the Greater Bennington Interfaith Food and Fuel Fund, which helps support local low-income families pay for food and heat during the winter, and the other half of the profits are sent to Bennington's "sister city," Somotillo, Nicaragua, where every $100 raised helps to send a child to school.

Instead of having students pay for the items with money, Knapp decided a token system was easier for the students, especially the younger ones.

According to Knapp, prices usually range from 25 cents to $3, or one to six tokens.

The "big ticket" items this year -- the Xbox and DS -- cashed out at 15 and 20 tokens respectively.

Knapp said that at the end of the school day, any items not purchased are placed into boxes labeled "free" and put into the hall for students.

On Wednesday, each grade level navigated the bazaar, exchanging their money for tokens at the doorway of the classroom.

During the event, Knapp's students were spread out throughout the classroom, manning each table and acting as cashiers, collecting the tokens from shoppers.

Abby Bossong, a third-grader, manned the lotion and perfume table, but also found time to do a little shopping herself.

"I bought my dad a tie," she said proudly, showing off the light blue and brown striped accessory. "I know he will like it because last year, I bought him a singing tie and he thought it was funny."

Bossong said she and her classmates learned a lot from Knapp in the weeks prior to the event, most notably, "to be helpful and not grumpy," with the shoppers.

After students purchased their gifts, they were ushered into the neighboring library where parent volunteers were busy wrapping the gifts.

Among the volunteers was Kim Post, a mother to two Village School students.

"The bazaar is a great experience for the kids," she said, explaining that it encourages children to recycle. "All of the things here are either things children didn't want or things families didn't need anymore. It also teaches them the value of shopping for others, which is important," she said. 

First-grade teacher Jennifer Wagner said the event is special for both the students and parents alike.

"It's nice because the students can get out there and buy gifts for their parents who do so much for them all year and it also gives the parents a surprise," she said. "The presents the kids pick out are personal -- it's their effort and their idea."

Last year, Knapp said the bazaar netted more than $600. She expects the same amount, if not more, to be raised this year.

Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at econkey@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @bethconkey.