The Polar Express made its way into the Phoenix Central School District in the days before Christmas, leaving gifts and holiday cheer in its wake at Emerson J. Dillon Middle School.
For more than 15 years, teachers and community members have donated gifts ranging from jewelry to board games, and students then “shop” for their families. After perusing the hundreds of items, students bring the gifts to the library, where teachers and community volunteers help them wrap and label the presents.
According to EJD school psychologist Jill Lunn, who helps organize the event, Polar Express gets bigger every year. The far-reaching event impacts hundreds of students and families, with the givers often receiving the gift of giving and the holiday spirit.
Emerson J. Dillon Middle School’s Room 102 was transformed into Santa’s workshop during the school’s Polar Express shopping event just days before Christmas.
Thanks to area businesses, churches and EJD staff members’ generous donations, several students acted as elves during the celebration, as they were able to pick out one gift for every member of their household. Tables were filled with stuffed animals, board games, Barbies, tools, fragrances, mittens and hats, houseware, trinkets and many other items.
Sixth-grader Maria Main found presents for her siblings and classmate Mackenizie Bennett said it was hard to choose the perfect gifts for everyone in her family.
“This is for my sister because she loves Frozen!” said one student, as he held up a Disney’s Frozen stationary set.
“The Polar Express” movie played throughout the day in the classroom gift shop.
Upon selection of gifts, students went to a wrapping station in the library so gifts were ready to be placed under the tree just in time for Christmas morning.
EJD Middle School Counseling Intern Samantha Rose, left, helps Sixth-grader Maria Main wrap gifts during the school’s Polar Express shopping event.
An outpouring of donations rolled into Emerson J. Dillon Middle School on Dec. 23 as the Polar Express made its annual stop to make spirits bright.
Each year, community members, school district personnel, area businesses and other agencies drop off hundreds of new gifts to the middle school. From there, the items are separated into categories such as toys, books, clothing and jewelry, and displayed on tables for students to peruse. Students make their way through the “store,” where they pick up gifts for family members.
Ellen Byrnes, a reading teacher at Emerson J. Dillon Middle School, wraps presents with student Alissa Bova during the school’s annual Polar Express event Dec. 23.
For EJD student Thomas McCarthy, the Polar Express had everything he needed on his shopping list. “I got stuff for my grandma, mom, dad, sisters and brother,” he said as he brought the gifts to the library, where a gift-wrapping station was located.
“So many people donate not just the gifts, but their time to wrap the gifts too,” said school psychologist Jill Lunn. “It’s a team effort and everybody pitches in. The community really supports our schools, and people are very generous. That kind of attitude rubs off on the students; they realize that it’s not about getting things.”
The Polar Express rolled into the Phoenix Central School District on Friday, bringing with it plenty of Christmas cheer.
Students at Emerson J. Dillon Middle School had the opportunity to shop for family members as they perused a wide selection of gifts that were donated by staff and community members. The annual event, which began more than a decade ago by the school nurse and school psychologist, has transformed into a gift-giving extravaganza, according to EJD school psychologist Jill Lunn.
"It started out with just a few kids who came down and teachers had brought a few things in for those couple of kids to wrap and take home to give to family members," Lunn said. "(Since then) they have expanded it and asked for donations from all the staff. Each team nominates children to come down to shop. Every year it gets a little bit bigger and we get more and more and more (donations), which is wonderful."
Emerson J. Dillon school psychologist Jill Lunn helps student Bradyn Lough wrap gifts for his relatives during Polar Express on Friday at Emerson J. Dillon Middle School.
Leah Green (left) and Love Phillips browse a wide selection of gifts to give to family members as part of Polar Express at Emerson J. Dillon Middle School.
Although the donations were a bit scarce at the beginning of December, Lunn said a final push helped send the donations over the top, guaranteeing at least 205 students would be able to bring a gift home for their family members.
“Monday there wasn't nearly as much stuff, so I sent out an email to staff and said that we have more kids than ever ... and they rallied and they brought in so many things,” Lunn said. “We have a lot of community members who donate. What's incredible too is some of our families who could probably use a little help around the holidays also give.”
For student Love Phillips, Polar Express was a chance to provide a good Christmas for her three brothers and parents. That feeling of giving, according to Lunn, was what the initiative was all about.
“We wanted to do something a little different and let the kids know what it feels like to be able to give, and very rarely do we get a student who asks for something for themselves,” Lunn said.
While the shopping part was a major part of the event, faculty and community members were also on hand to wrap each gift.
“Certainly we couldn’t do it without the community volunteers, district administrators (and) the teachers that donate. They give up their planning periods and their lunches to help wrap. It's teamwork. It takes everybody,” Lunn said.