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Spirit of the Season: More than a Christmas party at Covillaud
Gifts given out to Marysville children in need
Santa's auxillary workshop and storage area is in Classroom 112A.
In the days leading up to Covillaud Elementary School's annual Christmas party, that is where all the secret elf work takes place.
Hundreds of gift bags are labeled and filled there. Toys are wrapped. Clothing boxed. Contents catalogued. Donors noted.
From Dec. 14 on, the room in Marysville serves as Christmas headquarters for Donna Cummings, the party's chief of operations. Cummings began this effort to help local kids in need after getting to know some of Covillaud's kids as a probation and school safety officer 24 years ago.
"When you're a small child and you're poor, Christmas is all over the TV, and you wonder, 'Why doesn't Santa come to my house?'" she said. "I couldn't take that. I knew I had to do something."
But the impetus for what seems to be just a party has everything to do, Cummings said, with the recipients' lives throughout the school year.
"You have to make interventions in order for these kids to learn. if they're not dressed properly or they're hungry, they're not able to learn."
The first year was a quick, grass-roots project that enlisted some of the school's staff and some of Cummings' friends.
"We started with 40 kids in the cafeteria," she said.
The project now involves more than 25 service organizations across the Sacramento Valley. And on Saturday, participants fed, entertained and bestowed gifts upon 270 children, all of them invited on the basis of need.
"A lot of these people (parents) had good jobs and lost them. A lot of them have never had to ask for any kind of help. But they asked to be on this list," Cummings said.
The majority of students at Covillaud qualify for the state's free and reduced lunch programs. A few dozen are homeless, or do not have stable housing.
Yet their test scores are among the highest in the region.
"These kids that are hungry, and who show up in their brothers shoes are testing with the best," Cummings said.
Escheman's leadership, and an investment in caring for students beyond the classroom, Cummings said, is responsible for the school's academic success.
Escheman said he tries to give the party preparations team a wide berth.
But last week, he was serving as a courier, picking up donated clothing, gifts and food from donors around town.
He took a peek into 112A after school on Thursday to see how things were coming along.
"She's so particular," he said of Cummings.
The classroom floor was a sea of gift bags.
"It has to be just right for every single kid," he said.
On Saturday, as usual, parents were not allowed at the party. They interfere and color the atmosphere, sometimes with emotional baggage the volunteers find unhelpful.
But hundreds of volunteers, including Girls Scouts from Granite Bay and AT&T Pioneers, a service group now located in Sacramento, were on hand to guide the children through the proceedings: food, visits with Santa, gifts.
Many found it hard to leave the food behind and move on to gifts.
"They don't get to eat on weekends like they do at school with free meals," Cummings explained.
And some hold off opening any of the wrapped gifts until Christmas.
"Please" and "thank you," were whispered with regularity throughout the chaos.
"It's a miracle," Cummings said. "We are creating little citizens who will grow up and give back. And that's what community is all about."
CONTACT Nancy Pasternack at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4781. Find her on Facebook at /ADnpasternack or on Twitter at @ADnpasternack.