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City Students Pick Out Holiday Gifts For Family Members

Hartford School

By JODIE MOZDZER | The Hartford Courant

December 17, 2008

The sound of chipmunks chirping out Christmas songs in the gymnasium at Maria Sanchez Elementary School couldn't drown out the excited hum coming from a group of children picking out holiday gifts for their family members Tuesday afternoon.

It's a typical scene in a school gymnasium during the holiday season. But at Sanchez, the "Holiday Shopping Spree," organized by physical education teacher Dave Anderson, was a first.

The Babcock Street school is in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Hartford about 96 percent of the students there qualify for free or reduced-price lunch this year. But at the school's holiday bazaar Tuesday, the 500 students could pick from digital photo key chains, foot baths and slow-cookers. And all the gifts were free.

"I sent out a memo asking for unopened, brand new, never used items," Anderson said. "It surpassed my wildest expectations."

Pricilla Correa, 7, proudly showed Anderson a package of baby girl outfits she planned to give to her 1-year-old cousin. Kenithia Mcleggan, 7, hugged a neatly wrapped box, complete with a curly white ribbon, that she planned to give to her older brother. And sixth-graders Amairani Ventura and Bertalisia Velasquez laid out rolls of wrapping paper and carefully taped it over the various gifts that students picked off a line of tables in the gym.

The items, like an extra set of teacups or some unwanted candles, might otherwise have been "re-gifted" by the school staff and their friends, who instead donated them to the shopping spree.

"I know how important it is to them to go and pick out their own gifts," said art teacher Marilyn Ponte, referring to nieces and nephews of hers who buy gifts at similar fairs at their suburban school. "We have enough resources to bring in enough stuff so every child can have one or two gifts to give."

Anderson said about 500 gifts and all the wrapping material were donated to the fair. Anderson got the idea for the event from a friend who hosts a similar bazaar in the Bristol school system.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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