Like many Aikenites, Robert Stephens stopped by the Aiken Mall on Christmas Eve Friday, looking for a last-minute present. When he got through, Tri-Development staffers and volunteers wrapped the gift for him in the benefit service they've been providing for about two weeks. "I'm a man and if I wrapped it," Stephens said cheerfully, "it's going to be covered with duct tape and staples. I've been working too much and had to get out this morning and do this. It's just that everybody is busy and here at the last minute trying to finish up for the people they love and care about." All the proceeds from the gift-wrapping service will go toward Tri-Development's programs for special needs adults and children. Volunteer Tracy Parker, a high school senior, came for the second straight year. When a desperate shopper showed up Thursday night with a car full of gifts, Parker and others stayed after the mall closed to get the wrapping done. "I really like helping out," she said. "It's fun to hang out with the folks here." The mood throughout the mall was festive. Linda Pine, an office associate at J.C. Penney, said the store has been having a banner year. "We're meeting our goals and exceeding them almost every day," she said. "Our customers seem more willing to loosen their pocketbooks, and we hired about 26 temporary employees this season. Our plans are to keep some of them, and that's also helpful." Among the shoppers at J.C. Penney were James Harris and his teenage children, Jamal and Jayme. "We're shopping for my wife (Tania)," Harris said with a grin. "She's really nosy, so we have to shop real late for her." At The Shoe Department, one of the managers, Jennifer McCool, was also jubilant about the rush. "Things are very busy this season," she said. "They're certainly buying shoes for the holidays and are shopping more than people expected. For many customers, the last-day effort was as much social as practical. Brenda McKinney was out with her granddaughter, Kayla Gold, who lives outside Birmingham, Ala. "We needed one more present," said McKinney. "But really, it's just a day for me and her to do a little shopping and get into the mood. It's so nice in here with all the Christmas songs." McKale Battle, 5, discovered the Christmas wreath made a pretty good hat as he toured Belk with his grandmother, Linda Adcock. "This has been the best Christmas with him," said Adcock, "as it's the first time he has really been into it. We picked up 'The Elf on the Shelf,' and that's been the really big thing." Terry Stephenson of Aiken Electric Cooperative said about 20 people from the utility have volunteered with Tri- Development's gift-wrapping program over the past two weeks. She participated Friday with her son Cameron, a New Ellenton Middle School 8th-grader. "I've been doing this for 10 years and really enjoy it," Stephenson said. "We're glad to be here for Christmas in such a nice way." Contact Rob Novit at