By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Sometimes, the holiday season is more fulfilling to give than it is to receive. Lauren Fonte, a student teacher in a second-grade class at Cataract Elementary, found out first hand just how great the feeling can be putting smiles on the faces of children who maybe wouldn't have one without her.
Together with her church group from Whitehaven Road Baptist Church in Grand Island, she pulled off her own Christmas miracle within the walls of Cataract Elementary Thursday when students in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first and second grades got personalized bags with multiple presents wrapped inside. Every student. Just in time for the holidays.
"Originally, my goal was to help the 18 students in my second grade class," she said. "So I put the word out to my family, to my friends, to my church. The support I got was so great, it went from helping the one class to all 12 primary-level classes."
Her project began after hearing from some of her students just how much they needed help during the holidays. She said some told her they had no presents to open. Some said they didn't even have a tree. So, she wanted to see just how much she could help.
In their bags, each student received a pair of pajamas, a toothbrush and toothpaste and a pair of slippers. It was here she meant to stop. But an overflow of generosity actually made it possible to not only provide some bare essentials, but also a toy of some sort.
She wanted to make sure there was a bit of fun for the children, as well. After all, what child only wants clothes and a toothbrush for Christmas?
Delivering the gifts to the children required some help, so Fonte recruited a special friend of hers to help her make the rounds. Her friend, who has experience giving children of all ages their Christmas wishes, let loose some jolly laughs as he and his special helper elves were able to finish nine of the 12 classes Thursday.
Santa Claus will return to the school today to complete the final three rooms before the district shuts down for two weeks to celebrate the holidays.
Fonte spent considerable time planning, executing and overseeing the project. It was amazing, then, to see the reactions from each child as Santa first walked through the class door, she said. Or to see their eyes light up when the gift bags are revealed, or when the gifts are unwrapped and they see what's theirs to keep.
She said it was all worth it.
"It's incredibly emotional and overwhelming," Fonte said. "The gratitude and appreciation from the kids, you can't even put it into words."
Her actual accomplishment was much greater, though. Molly Kurek, the school's guidance counselor, said what happened at Cataract goes beyond just one charitable act.
When the school makes requests on behalf of students to the various charitable organizations throughout the area, there's usually some sort of catch. Either they only get a finite number of requests or something else holding back the inclusion of everyone who needs help.
But Fonte's effort missed no one. Every single student in the four grade levels of the school's primary program was given surprises of a lifetime and can now say they received the Christmas they've always wanted, whether or not they get one at home, too.
"This helped out everyone," Kurek said. "This way they all get something.
"There's never been something to this magnitude (here). We're all just blown away by the amount that was donated. It definitely demonstrates the meaning of Christmas. Every time I think about it, I cry."Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.