SALT LAKE CITY — Lincoln Elementary third-grade student Rooney Gordon let out a loud, high-pitched scream that startled the people around her as she tore the wrapping paper off several gifts.
Inside Gordon's treasure trove were a pair of boots, a doll, a baby blue robe and — most importantly — an Austin & Ally CD.
"I'm super excited," Gordon said after jumping up and down several times. "This is my favorite singer of all time."
It was a scene repeated often Thursday morning in the gymnasium of Lincoln Elementary as each of the school's approximately 600 students received presents they needed — like coats, gloves and shoes — and presents they wanted — like toy cars, scooters and sports equipment.
Roughly half of the student body at Lincoln Elementary is learning English as a second language, principal Christine Pittam said, and a majority of the student body comes from low-income households.
"This is a good day to be an educator," Pittam said while observing the melee of discarded packaging, bouncing balls and remote-control cars zipping around the floor. "For some of our low-income families, this might be the biggest part of Christmas for these kids."
The gift-giving event, called Christmas Wishes, is organized by the Utah Central Credit Union and has been held at Lincoln for the past 17 years, credit union regional president Bruce Bryan said. He said each year the students write Christmas lists on ornaments that are displayed in Utah Central Credit Union branches, which are then claimed by individuals or businesses to purchase the items.
"When we first came in here, we wanted to just take care of a handful of kids," Bryan said. "But after talking with the principal we knew there was a need for the entire school."
Bryan said each student receives at least one "need" item and one "want" item and in the future organizers hope to expand the program to other schools with low-income populations.
"It means so much to these kids," he said.
Pittam described the program as miraculous, in that children who may not have otherwise received any gifts for Christmas are able to get items that they individually need and asked for, all due to the kindness of complete strangers. She was also appreciative to the organizers for making sure no student, regardless of the severity of their family's financial needs, is left out of the fun.
Pittam said the Christmas Wishes event has a special way of bringing the community together and is something both students and faculty look forward to.
"We get to have Christmas with our own families and have Christmas with our school family as well," she said.
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