Markeece Alexander, 8, tries to find the perfect T-shirt with volunteer Stan Choo (left) during the Sears and Salvation Army annual Underprivileged Children Holiday Shopping Spree at Sears on Colorado Boulevard on Thursday morning. Eighty deserving boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 12 were given $100 to buy clothes and shoes for the winter. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — It’s a Santa Monica tradition now in its 26th year, and this holiday season it may be having a bigger impact than ever before.

On Thursday morning, 80 local kids between the ages of 5 and 12 were treated to $100 shopping sprees at Sears’ Downtown Santa Monica location, courtesy of the Salvation Army Santa Monica Corps and its community partners.

Aimed at providing underprivileged kids from local schools with needed winter clothing, about 80 volunteers were on hand to help pick out jackets and try on shoes.

“It just makes you feel good. It’s a big reality check,” said Karen Fowler, a volunteer who works as an administrator at the Santa Monica Place mall.

Sears opened its doors for the event at 7:30 a.m. and gave the kids added discounts on clothes. Clearance items were going for half their marked prices.

A 9-year-old named Destiny, who attends fourth grade John Muir Elementary School, said she found a jacket, Sponge Bob pajamas, two pairs of skinny jeans, a pair of shoes, scrunchies and socks with the days of the week written on them.

“It’s a special day,” she said.

Destiny’s chaperone, Sara Craven, was one of 22 employees of a payment management company called Verifi who took the morning off to lend a hand.

“It was fantastic. The kids are appreciative and it’s fun to be able to help them and shop for them,” she said.

While the event is an annual tradition, Lora Morn, a coordinating nurse with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District who helps select participants, said this year there was a clear increase in the number of eligible children.

“There’s no question that there’s a greater need,” she said. “There’s definitely a lot of families that have lost jobs. You have to leave out a lot of families that really could benefit.”

The event was also something of a kickoff for the Salvation Army’s holiday season activities.

Capt. Mario Ruiz of the Santa Monica Salvation Army Corps, said the organization has plans to provide 400 families with food and toys, and could increase that number if it receives additional donations.

Groups including the Rotary Club, the Elks, Kiwanis and the American Legion had members on hand to help out, according to Retired Santa Monica Police Capt. Alex Padilla, one of the chief organizers.

“It’s a chance for all of us to be a part of something that’s positive for our community,” he said.

nickt@www.smdp.com

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