Denver’s Arc Thrift Stores offer low-cost alternative in times of tight money, low supplies. And Santa visits!

Things are different for Santa these days.

The jolly old elf, for the most part, cannot allow children to sit on his lap, instead opting for nearby chairs. Masks are mandatory, only to be pulled down for photos. And the Christmas lists are, to say the least, different.

“It’s been a lot simpler the last couple years,” said Jim White, 70, who’s played Santa at charity-nonprofit events and thrift stores for the past four decades. “It used to be, ‘I need a phone or the latest video game (console).’ Now it’s just smaller things — ‘Anything will be fine.’ ”

The kids that White tends to see — such as at a Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver event at Empower Field at Mile High on Tuesday night — are thrilled when he hands them a $5 toy voucher for Arc Thrift Stores. The fact that their parents are already holiday-shopping there shows White, who recently retired from a long career of service at Volunteers of America, that they could use the extra help.

In this week’s case, White will appear as Santa from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday at the Arc Thrift Store in Central Park Shopping Center, 7485 E. Illif Ave. That follows appearances in recent weeks in Brighton, Lakewood and elsewhere, where kids could visit, stop for a distanced picture with Santa, and generally let out some of their frustrations from the past year.

One in five Americans will shop at a thrift store during a given year, about the same number who will shop at a major department store, according to a study commissioned by the online resale platform ThredUp, and reported by communitynews.org.

Supply chain issues, high shipping costs, staff shortages and spiking prices are also rampant, on- and offline, this season. But thrift-store shoppers can save roughly 50% to 80% on the cost of the same item (if new) from a department store, according to a USA Today column.

Customers who shop at Arc are also supporting programs that give work opportunities to people with disabilities and other nonprofit programs. The need is constant.

“Over the years you hear some heartbreaking stories from kids,” White said. “The only thing they want, for example, is for mom and dad not to fight. Stop and think about that.”

White started out working in the Meals on Wheels program for homebound seniors, and has since come to co-chair charity events while spreading the message of volunteerism and community service. He’s well-known in town as an advocate for the city’s most vulnerable, handing out Christmas baskets and running toy drives for needy families.

But he doesn’t want any of this to be about him.

“It’s a make-or-break season for a lot of charities and the families they serve,” said White, who last year showed up outside kids’ houses in his neighborhood to surprise them, social-distancing style (this year he’s made about a dozen in-person appearances). “But I love doing it. You’ve got these families standing in line for Christmas baskets. How could you not want to be there? Sometimes the kids ask for puppies or kitties. And as Santa, I’m always telling them, ‘I’ll do the best that I can.’ ”

To visit or donate to an Arc Thrift Store of Colorado, visit arcthrift.com/stores. Note: All items are 50% off on Saturdays.

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