The small Christmas tree laden with new hats, gloves and scarves quivered as kindergartners from Julie Penrose Elementary School plucked the decorations and tossed them into boxes they made using holiday wrapping paper, festive bows, and lots and lots of tape.
The 5- and 6-year-olds lugged the large boxes, also stuffed with toys, coats and lunch boxes, from the school's main hallway to a giant truck waiting outside.
Students loaded the presents Wednesday morning for immediate delivery to the Potato Creek community on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
"It's kids giving to kids," said Kathy Turzi, executive director of One Nation Walking Together. "Getting the next generation involved early, learning young that others are in need, is heartwarming."
They are the youngest group to donate this year to Colorado Springs-based One Nation Walking Together, Turzi said. The organization collects and ships some $2 million worth of goods annually to reservations in nine states.
The Pine Ridge Reservation, home of the Oglala Lakota nation, is the poorest county in the United States.
This season's Giving Tree at Colorado Springs School District 11's Penrose Elementary, embodied a hands-on lesson on kindness, under a teaching format called project-based learning.
"The kids learn more about what's going in the world, what's needed in the world, and they get more involved," said kindergarten teacher Irene Freyre. "Project-based learning is about coaching and guiding students, and this is the direction the project went."
The 78 kindergartners who participated enjoyed being Santa's elves.
"I brought hats," said 5-year-old Olivia Bruckner.
"People brought toys and backpacks. And even candy," said 5-year-old Keilani Roath. "It makes you feel good. It fills you up."
Students learned that a kindness bucket lives in their hearts and fills up a little when someone does something kind for them but fills up a lot when they do something kind for others.
"It makes you feel good when it fills up, like saying something nice or playing nicely," said Koen Schrader. "I could feel mine."
Students also know not to expect anything in return for doing a good deed, such as picking up trash or saying hi, said Gretchen Bitner, project-based learning coordinator at Penrose Elementary.
"You never know by doing something kind that you've really made a difference," Bitner said. "Everything we do, we're trying to make a change in our community for the better. It can be small or global."
Students also made cards for nursing home residents, assembled emergency bags for a neighboring elementary school, created stockings for teachers and handed out candy canes to older classmates.
"We want them to know that being kind can change someone's life, and it can also change yours," Bitner said.