The book’s message is intended to inspire compassion and gratitude during the holidays and throughout the year
Danielle Metzler (left) and Samantha Johnson (right) created The Big Red Giving Bag to start a new family tradition encouraging their children to give to those in need.
Author Danielle Metzler’s two children believe she and her sister, Samantha Johnson, have a special friendship with Santa Claus, and Metzler is fine with that. The siblings, along with their mother, Martha Harlan, have created The Big Red Giving Bag, a book-and-bag set for kids aimed at countering “all the ads, the overload, the bombardment with acquiring more things at the holidays,” Metzler explains.
After Harlan purchased Santa bags embroidered with the grandchildren’s names and accidentally bought an extra, Metzler, a family medicine doctor at Roper Hospital, thought it could be the start of a new holiday tradition: the additional bag could be used to collect previously loved toys and books to give to children who might not have presents under the tree. “I wanted to reach my children with something different, with giving to others in a magical ‘Santa’s helper’ kind of way,” she says.
The idea expanded into the concept for a book, with Metzler writing the story in the form of a letter from Santa asking for a favor—help collecting toys for all the little boys and girls. Johnson, an art teacher at James Island Christian School, illustrated the book, which comes in a gift box with a pillowcase-sized red velour bag that can be filled with toys that have been outgrown. In the book, Santa asks children to leave the bag under the tree on Christmas Eve so he can refurbish the toys in his workshop and deliver them the following year.
Parents are encouraged to donate the gently used toys to a local charity of their choice, such as Norton Child Advocacy Center, Lowcountry Orphan Relief, and East Cooper Community Outreach in Charleston, making sure to check with each organization about what items they accept.
The book’s message of inspiring gratitude and compassion toward others is one that Metzler says should be emphasized during the holiday season and beyond: “There really is more joy from giving than receiving.”
(Left) The Big Red Giving Bag book comes with a bag for children to fill with previously loved toys and leave under the tree for Santa on Christmas Eve; (Right) The sisters promoted their children’s book at the Atlanta Market for gifts and home goods in January 2022. They'll be signing books at James Island’s The Town Market on December 2.
In addition to fostering the spirit of giving in the book, Metzler and Johnson donate an estimated 10 percent of the proceeds to Compassion International, a Christian ministry that connects sponsors with children living in poverty all over the world. Last year, the sisters gave chickens to families through the nonprofit, with the idea that the benefits will be long-lasting. “This gift helps families become self-sufficient through the income they earn from selling their eggs, as well as providing a good source of protein for them to enjoy themselves,” they explained on their Instagram page. In addition, they have given fruit trees and funds dedicated to building water wells.
So far, they’ve sold about 4,000 books, and the sets are available in almost every state, as well as in Australia, Canada, and Mexico. Locally, The Big Red Giving Bag can be found at Carolina Girls, Ellifox, Indigo, Local Love Charleston, Under the Almond Trees, and Wonder Works Toys.
For Metzler, her sister, and their five children ranging in ages from two to nine, The Big Red Giving Bag has become the new family tradition Metzler hoped for. The season starts early as they pack each kit for delivery and often recruit the youngsters to help. “They see it all around the house, stacks of The Red Giving Bag books all over the place,” Metzler says. “Everything is packaged and shipped from our living room, office, or garage.”
And it’s not a bad thing for their children to continue to believe they have an inside track with Santa.