Isabella Lerma couldn’t wait for Santa Claus to call her name so she could get an up-close look at the jolly old elf.
The 4-year-old squirmed anxiously Thursday morning as her peers at Toledo Public Schools’ Head Start program were called one by one to sit on Santa’s knee and receive a present wrapped specially for them.
Isabella Lerma, 4, center, cheers as she receives her Christmas present from Santa at the Toledo Public Schools Head Start program.
The fresh snowfall overnight made Santa’s trip to Toledo a breeze in the sleigh, he told the group of about 20 preschool students. They had been expecting him, and his rosy-red cheeks and winter-white beard did not disappoint.
“I like Santa,” said Terrion Mims, 4.
“He’s silly,” said Anylah Overton, 3.
Finally, Isabella’s name was called. She sprang from her seat and jumped her way to Santa’s lap.
“Merry Christmas, Isabella,” he said. She flashed a grin and clutched her gift tight.
It’s the second holiday season that TPS’ early childhood education program has had a visit from the North Pole before Christmas. TPS employees Sheryl Martinez and Dawn Hetrick came up with the idea last year as a way to bring extra holiday cheer to some of the district’s youngest students.
They thought it would be a one-time deal, but the idea took off.
“It’s here to stay, I think,” Ms. Martinez said.
Santa’s gifts all are provided by the TPS administrative staff, who shop for gifts geared toward different ages and interests so each child has a unique gift to unwrap. Each child also has their photo taken with St. Nick to capture the memory.
“There’s a need. Parents are on hard times, and we just try to make it a brighter Christmas for the children and the family,” Ms. Martinez said.
Thursday was the first time Philip Rhodes, 4, met Santa in person. His mother, Cynthia Rhodes, was on hand to snap photos and calm his nerves.
“I think this is really nice. It is very generous,” she said. “A lot of kids in this community don’t have transportation or ways to get out to be a part of this kind of thing. So bringing it to us is amazing.”
With a wave of his hand, Santa gave the children permission to unwrap their gifts. Soon the floor was strewn with bows and ribbons and Play-Doh and stuffed animals.
“Thank you for being such good girls and boys,” Santa bellowed as he posed for one last picture with the class.
Oscar Porras, Jr., 4, waited for St. Nick to leave before he sat down to open his present with his dad, Oscar Porras. He peeled off the wrapping paper slowly, exposing a brand new toy race car, and smiled wide.
“I thought it was really nice,” said Brandy Valdez, whose granddaughter Fatima Gonzales, 4, is in the class. “The way they set it up was really good, and I think Santa was phenomenal.”