School program brings needy kids a chance to give

KRISTINA IODICE Updated: December 8, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: December 8, 2012

It can be better to give than receive.

“I’m not buying things for me,” exclaimed 8-year-old Isaiah Kickery.

Six-year-old Victoria Sanders planned on finding something really good for her mom. “She’s special to me,” she said.

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Those two and 45 other children headed out to gather Christmas cheer Saturday through a Falcon School District 49 program aimed at helping families that otherwise might miss the joy of the season.

The annual Santa’s Toy Express has grown into a morning full of festivities for students in preschool through third-grade selected by their schools. Bus drivers pick up the kids and bring them to the D-49 transportation department for breakfast, visits with Santa and other activities.

Chaperones assigned to each young charge then help them spend about $40 on presents for their families. Then it’s time for a gift-wrapping party, crafts, face painting and a magic show.

“I love all of it,” said 7-year-old Gerardo Cuevas. After eating breakfast, he was looking forward to finding the perfect gifts for his three sisters and his brother.

“They don’t even know they are getting anything, they’re happiest shopping for their families,” said Jim Borst, a D-49 transportation trainer.

The student also get gifts, including a homemade hat and scarves, a jacket, and at least one present picked specifically for them.

It is Borst’s third year volunteering. “It’s what Christmas is all about,” he said.

District bus driver RJ Berry came up with the idea in 2002 as a way to make sure every child on his route had a warm coat. It started with 15 kids, and has settled at about 50 kids.

Berry said for families in need or other special circumstances, the event makes the holiday.
Santa’s Toy Express costs about $6,000. The D-49 transportation department hosts meals during the year to raise money. Local businesses and others contribute.

“I had the idea, but everyone jumped on board,” Berry said.

The event takes a small army of volunteers.

“This is my Christmas thing to do,” said Kathy Kendu, a former D-49 worker and 10-year veteran of Santa’s Toy Express.

“When I was little, I had so much,” said volunteer Kelsey Hale, a Falcon High School junior. “I want to give them what I had.”



Contact Kristina Iodice: 636-0162 Twitter @GazetteKristina Facebook Kristina Iodice

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