Ilexia Navarro bounced up and down excitedly Sunday morning as she set out into the aisles of Target in Cherry Hill to do her Christmas shopping.
"I don't know everything I'm getting, but I have a good idea," the 9-year-old Williamstown girl said.
First on Ilexia's list: her 2-year-old brother. Holding the elbow of a high school volunteer, she made her way to the toy aisle, where she picked up several items and asked what they looked like before settling on a package of cars.
Ilexia was one of about 30 visually impaired children who spent Sunday morning shopping for their families as part of an annual event sponsored by the Haddonfield Lions Club.
The club paired children registered with the New Jersey Commission for the Blind with high school students from Haddonfield and Pennsauken. The older students helped the children, ages 6 through 16, select gifts for their families.
Throughout the morning, clusters of children and teenage volunteers moved throughout the store pushing red carts, brainstorming gift ideas, and doing math to stay within their budgets.
The $50 each child had to spend on gifts was covered by the Lions Club. The Target store donated wrapping paper and snacks, allowed the group to use its break room, and arranged for a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.
When 9-year-old Thomas Burns of Egg Harbor said his older sister liked music, three high schoolers began to brainstorm gifts that would relate to the band One Direction.
Two other volunteers walked 8-year-old Caroline Maldonado back to the toy section more than once, to make sure she selected a gift within her budget for her 12-year-old brother.
It was the second year that Victoria Coty, 17, a senior at Haddonfield High School, participated.
"I like that they get really excited that they get to be independent and shop for their families," Coty said.
The high school students also learned from the day. Ilexia explained to Jenny Luu and Acelya Ozcan, the two Pennsauken High School students helping her, that she usually walks without a guide. But she always uses a cane, she told them, because it hits obstacles "before your feet do."
Lions Club members let the student volunteers do the shopping, but they were on hand to watch. Rick Witte of Cherry Hill joined the Lions Club because his own daughter, 31, is visually impaired and participated in the shopping day as a child.
"When she was little, she loved it," he said.
The annual event began more than 30 years ago, when the Cherry Hill Lions Club hosted the children at a local Kmart. For the last 17 years, it has taken place at the Cherry Hill Target store. When the Cherry Hill Lions Club disbanded a few years ago, the Haddonfield club took over.
"My favorite part is watching the volunteers take these kids around the store," said Lawrence Ragone, a retired optometrist and longtime Lions Club member who lives in Cherry Hill. "Plus, the look on these kids' faces."
Ilexia wanted a purple mug for her mother. Her helpers did not find any purple but they handed her a blue striped one.
"Ooh, that's cool!" Ilexia exclaimed as she held it close to her face and peered through her pink glasses.
After buying gifts for her parents and two siblings, Ilexia had some money left over. She decided to buy a gift for her friend Isabelle Nutt. Ilexia selected a necklace from the jewelry section, and reminded her high school helpers several times that it must be kept a secret – Isabelle was also at the event Sunday morning.
Little did she know 10-year-old Isabelle was across the store with three other high schoolers, selecting a headband for Ilexia in addition to gifts for her parents and grandparents.
As she headed toward the cash register, Ilexia declared the day a success. She had gifts for her parents, her siblings, and her best friend.
"Plus," she added, noting that she had two boxes of candy canes in her basket, "candy for everyone."