Santa Claus arrived early at the Community Charter School of Paterson on Monday morning in the form of a gym teacher. She handed out 515 neatly wrapped presents to children in kindergarten through fourth grades.
Physical education teacher Jennifer Olawski wanted to ensure every single one of her students had a present for Christmas. She began giving out gifts last year after a conversation with a first grader.
“I don’t really get Christmas presents,” a girl told her when the subject of gifts and Christmas came up last year. That conversation moved her to raise money to purchase art sets, wrap them, and deliver them to youngsters with a personalized holiday card.
This year, every present contains a hat and a pair of gloves for the students. Depending on grade level, some will find slime kits, different coloring books, or 100-piece art sets. Olawski thought of including gloves and hats after she found some students were coming to school in the snow without either to keep them warm. 87-percent of the students at the charter school come from impoverished families, according to school officials.
“I wanted to do it to tell them they are loved and cared for,” said Olawski (pictured). “These kids deserve it. They don’t always have someone in their corner.” They have Olawski in their corner. She spent weeks working with family and friends to wrap the presents for the children. She also had to store the large number of presents in her apartment prior to bringing them into the cafeteria of the Spruce Street school.
Presents were stacked several feet high on multiple tables. She did all of this while her mother has been hospitalized, she said. She says there’s also a teaching element to the present distributions.
Olawski, 31, said it teaches kindness and charity. Her kindness has been well-received by the students. “It blew my mind,” she said of the reaction she has received from students. She recalls handing a present to a “tough” third grader last year.
“He just broke down crying,” recalled Olawski.
“I got emotional too,” she said. It’s a memory, she said.
Olawski, who has been teaching at the charter school for five years, raised $4,500 through a Go Fund Me campaign to purchase the presents. She thanked the donors and created a video for them showing the smiling students lit up by the presents.
The school views Olawski’s effort as a Christmas “miracle.”