CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- More than 1,200 children created Christmas memories Sunday morning with the help of nearly that many volunteers and the generosity of businesswoman Brenda Lawson and Kmart.
Lawson started Creating Christmas Memories 17 years ago as a way to help some of Bradley County's children have a merrier Christmas.
"We work through the schools,'' Lawson said Sunday as children and parents began lining up outside Bradley Square Mall. "We figured there is nobody better than a teacher to help us.''
Each school nominates children for the unannounced shopping day. The 1,200 children is a pretty typical number, Lawson said.
Earlier in the week, volunteer shoppers also bought items for the children's younger siblings at home.
On Sunday morning each child, accompanied by a volunteer shopper, spent $100 as they chose. Parents waited in the mall food court.
The volunteers included teachers, high school students, Lee University, Cleveland State Community College, Check Into Cash, local firefighters and police officers and the staff of Brenda Lawson and Associates.
At the end of the shopping spree, Lawson writes a check for the amount, including donations from others in the community. Kmart gives a 10 percent discount, about $11,000, stretching the children's shopping dollars. The store added another $5,000 to that amount Sunday.
Lee student Calah Frazier was one of the volunteers.
"I want to be like Brenda Lawson,'' she said.
Kmart employees start even earlier than the 8 a.m. event, said store manager Tim Reneau.
"We plan weeks ahead,'' he said.
After a busy shopping day Saturday, Kmart employees had to restock and be ready Sunday for the children.
"My employees love it,'' he said. "It wouldn't be Christmastime without it.''
Most of the children were smiling as they came through the doors.
One of the greeters, Bradley County School Director Johnny McDaniel, greeted them and gave them shopping carts.
"This is my job each year,'' he said.
And just about all of the kids nodded eagerly when McDaniel asked if they already an idea what they would buy.