Community donations provide Christmas gifts for Lincoln Elementary students

Published: Thursday, Dec. 19 2013 5:30 p.m. MST

Adrijana Grahovic and Shantel Jimenez compare toy helicopters as they and other students receive Christmas gifts from the community at Lincoln Elementary School in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Mani Feleti, a first-grader at Lincoln Elementary School, struggled under the weight of a sack of presents.

He would not open the bulk of his loot until he arrived home, but, like his classmates, he was allowed to open a single gift Thursday, revealing a Spider-Man action figure.

Spider-Man, Mani said, is his favorite superhero because "he can fly and he can web stuff."

Gifts were provided by members of the community to all of Lincoln Elementary's roughly 550 students as part of an annual Christmas Wishes program sponsored and organized by HeritageWest Credit Union.

"It makes me happy since I get to open my presents," Mani said of his school day.

Fellow first-grader Sebastian Avery received a package of socks and was confident that one of the wrapped gifts remaining in his bag will contain a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figurine. His favorite is Leonardo, or "the blue one."

"Because he has the swords," Sebastian said.

Skip Wilson, regional president of HeritageWest, said the credit union has been sponsoring the gift drive for the past 17 years. Each year, students write a wish list of gifts — both needs and wants — on ornaments that are then hung on trees in HeritageWest branches. Credit union members are then able to select an ornament to provide the requested gifts.

"The needs go from anything from socks, boots, coats — just the basic necessities of every day," Wilson said. "Some of the kids I saw this year on the (want list) had food on there. It's heartbreaking when you see that."

Organizers frequently hear positive feedback from members of the credit union, who often will select multiple ornaments or coordinate with their co-workers to provide gifts, he said.

"They love it. They look forward to it," Wilson said. "They start talking before we put (the ornaments) up."

Lincoln Elementary Principal Peggy Paterson said that in the past, students would open all of their gifts during school. But she said the decision was made to take most of the gifts home so families could share in the experience.

"We enjoy the unwrapping, and we want to see the joy," Paterson said, "but we also want to make sure that families get to see this joy. For a lot of my families, this is Christmas, and I don't want to take that joy away from my families of being able to start their own traditions."

Roughly 90 percent of the students at Lincoln qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and 75 percent are English language learners, the principal said.

"We've got some real challenges," she said. "But with that, we've got incredible community involvement."

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com, Twitter: bjaminwood

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