For 60 students at Lake Alfred Elementary, the holidays will be much brighter, thanks to the school’s longtime partnership with local nonprofit Fundamentals for Kids.
“For some of these families, the only Christmas they’ll get will be because of Fundamentals for Kids,” said Principal Matt Burkett.
Fundamentals for Kids began 20 years ago as Christmas for Kids, an organization solely dedicated to providing toys, clothing and food to families in need at the holidays. Over time, the mission expanded to include tutoring during the school year.
It was clear from Monday’s drive-through toy giveaway, however, that spreading holiday cheer remains a top priority for Fundamentals for Kids.
“We’re happy to be here and to do what we can to help these families,” said Marlene Young, the organization’s secretary.
Each year, LAE staff members select families to receive assistance from Fundamentals for Kids. The families then fill out a form listing what every child in their family — including siblings who do not attend LAE — would like to receive. This year, the needs were especially great.
“A lot of our families have been laid off because of the pandemic,” Burkett said.
Beginning at 9 a.m. on Monday morning, families began lining their cars up outside the school to receive gift bags for their children, as well as gift cards to a nearby meat market.
One of the first recipients to arrive was Linda Smothers, who wiped tears from her eyes as Burkett and Fundamentals for Kids volunteers loaded her car with gifts. In addition to her granddaughter, who is in the third grade at LAE, Smothers received gift bags for her other grandchildren, ages 2, 1 and 3 months.
“This has been such a difficult year,” said Smothers, a home health aide.
Prior to the pandemic, Smothers worked two jobs, but because of COVID, one of her jobs has not allowed its aides to enter patients’ homes, cutting her income in half. Meanwhile, her daughter and four grandchildren moved in with her while her daughter finishes college to become a teacher.
“Without this,” she said, looking at the large plastic bags tied up for her grandchildren, “Christmas would be very bleak.”
Also thankful for help was Enid Bernard, a single mother of five. Bernard was working at a hotel but lost her job because of the pandemic.
“Christmas isn’t about presents, but that’s what society makes you believe. It was going to be hard to tell my kids they weren’t getting anything when all their friends are getting new things,” she said.
“Even one gift is better than none — but all of this is incredible. I’m very thankful.”