It’s not every day that 85 singing, clapping and high-fiving elves greet Seatack Elementary An Achievable Dream Academy students in the bus loop.
It’s also not every day that Seatack students find Santa Claus in the school’s main foyer welcoming them with a hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho!”
“You’re real?” one kindergartener asked Claus as she cautiously touched the fur lining of his red jacket.
“Yes, I’m real!” exclaimed Claus. “I’m standing right here, aren’t I?” he asked and chuckled as more students arrived and gathered around him, prompting a group bear hug.
“Where’s your sleigh?” asked another student.
“I had to park it waaaay over there,” said Claus gesturing to a distant place far beyond the school. He had an answer for every question.
And every Seatack student also received gifts thanks to the collaborative efforts of students in First Colonial High School’s (FCHS) National Honor Society (NHS).
The school’s NHS has supported the annual holiday event since its inception, sending just 10 student elves the first year to help distribute gifts bought by a generous local businessman.
Today, the FCHS NHS hosts the annual holiday event on their own, organizing fundraisers throughout the year to be able to buy gifts and treats for all Seatack students. Each child receives gloves or socks, a small toy, a larger toy and a goodie bag filled with school supplies and snacks.
“We had a dodgeball tournament in October that was really successful. We do a lot of cashola nights and socials, so we can all get together and celebrate the holiday season and know that all the money we’re giving is going to this amazing cause and helping out the kids,” said Caitlin Dye, FCHS NHS community service committee co-chair.
Dye’s co-chair Collan Hilfiger and NHS adviser Heather Spruill noted additional contributions from a FCHS staff jeans day, a $500 donation from a former student’s parents and a successful GoFundMe online campaign that raised more than $1,500.
The co-chairs used another online tool to ask for material donations for goodie bags. “We budgeted so we could buy them, but then we had an idea to set up a SignUpGenius online,” said Hilfiger. “We sent it our through our Facebook page for NHS and within a week, our goodie bags were filled.”
In addition to generous support from their school community, the co-chairs highlighted assistance from their local Target store on Laskin Road.
“We had 16 carts of toys,” said Dye, recalling the thousands of dollars spent on the shopping adventure. “They gave us a 10 percent gift card, and we were able to put that money toward buying new toys. Target was super awesome about helping us give back to our community.”
Joining the 85 elves from NHS later that morning and throughout the school day, would be members of the high school’s girls’ basketball team, boys’ basketball team, football team, cheerleading squad and art honor society. They visited classrooms to make holiday crafts, sing songs and participate in activities with Seatack students.
“It’s amazing to see how many people really need our help in our own backyards and how many people in our own community need us,” reflected Dye. “That’s what it’s all about – giving, not receiving. It’s just amazing to see the impact you can have on a child just by giving them a Christmas present. It’s something that’s so little but it makes them so happy, and it benefits us, too.”
“It’s an indescribable feeling,” added Hilfiger. “You get that feeling in your heart and you can’t really describe it. It sounds so cliché but it’s true.”
It also reminds the co-chairs of the true meaning of the holiday season.
“I feel like around Christmastime, everyone, especially high schoolers, we take everything for granted. So around Christmastime, we kind of lose the meaning of Christmas,” Hilfiger said. “For us to come here and give back to these kids, it makes us feel so blessed and fortunate for what we have. We just always forget that.”
Dye agreed, “It brings us back to earth.”