LAND O'LAKES — Julia Lipinski walked the aisles of Kmart on Wednesday morning in search of the perfect Christmas toy. Not for herself, or even for a good friend, but for a child in need.
"If we don't shop for these kids, they won't have any toys," said Julia, 4.
Julia is one of 61 little shoppers who invaded Kmart toy aisles Tuesday and Wednesday as part of the annual Kids' Stuff Preschool charity shopping trip.
Throughout the month of November, the preschoolers earned and saved their own money for the trip to buy Christmas toys for kids served by the ABC (Assist, Believe and Care) programs at Denham Oaks and Connerton elementary schools.
"The kids did chores, they picked up toys in their room, they helped take care of their little brothers and sisters," said Isabel Trentman, Kids' Stuff teacher and coordinator of the school's annual shopping trip. "Some kids even picked up change from beneath the cushions of their parents' couches!"
A Kids' Stuff grandmother sweetened the pot by donating $100 to the project. And by the end of November, the school had raised more than $1,600 to fill the Christmas wish lists of dozens of needy children at two Pasco elementary schools.
"The need is extreme," said Trentman, whose daughter is a Denham Oaks teacher. "These are families who need the basics all year around, not just toys."
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Trentman joined Kids' Stuff teachers Kim Copher, Judy De Friese, Liz Green and Kids' Stuff director Kristy Reavis to guide the children through their shopping trip, aided by parent volunteers who helped advise the students on their choices.
"My son Tristan has been very excited about this trip," said parent volunteer Lisa Richards. "He keeps telling me that he's excited to shop for needy children."
Also excited was Avery Quatrino, who celebrated the day before her 5th birthday shopping for other children at Kmart. She picked up several toys for Trentman's inspection before deciding on a fairy doll with wings.
"This is it!" she squealed, jumping up and down as she pointed to the toy.
Connor Henson, 4, expressed a similar reaction to a very different plaything: a stuffed wrestling doll he thought would be perfect for a boy.
"It talks!" he enthused.
Along the way, Kids' Stuff teachers encouraged the kids to shop for sales and bargains, and to always shop according to the wish lists they'd be given.
"This isn't about what we want," Trentman reminded them. "This is about the kids we're helping."
They also encouraged the kids to avoid toy guns and other playthings that might be perceived as violent.
At the end of the day students came away with everything from dolls to scooters, Legos to footballs, jewelry to motorized toys. And, Trentman said, they also came away with a special feeling that can only come from giving.
"I told them that they were Santa's helpers this year," she said, adding with a smile, "One little girl told me it made her happy in the heart to help others."