Students bring holiday spirit to homeless children at Katherine Hanley Shelter


Tina Nguyen, business manager

For the fifth year in a row, the photo club is sponsoring a toy drive, giving homeless children at the Katherine Hanley shelter a chance to enjoy the holidays.

“We partner with the Fair Oaks Police Department,” art department chair and photo club sponsor Betty Simmons said. “We try to provide a real Christmas for the kids. They do get some other toy donations, but the bulk of the toys for those children really come from us.”

Although the event is sponsored by photo club, the toy drive, which started in October and ends on Friday, Dec. 16, is open to all students. All students are encouraged to bring new toys to Room 122 for children in need. Photo club will distribute the toys during an evening event called “Gift of Giving” on Monday, Dec. 19.

“[The ‘Gift of Giving’ is] the day that parents of the kids go along to the shelter and pick out certain gifts for their children,” Simmons said. “Depending on how many we donate, it will enable them to either choose one or two gifts per child. It’s all in how much of a response we get.”

Students can volunteer at four different stations to help out at the event. One group plays and creates art projects with the children, keeping them busy while the parents pick out the gifts. Another organizes the toy room into age groups, making it easier for parents to select the gifts they want. After the parents have chosen the gifts, they head over to the third station, wrapping, where student volunteers wrap the presents for the parents. New for this year is the addition of a fourth group: face-painting. So far, there are about 40 volunteers signed up to help this year. Any students who are interested in volunteering can contact Simmons to sign up for the event.

“[The event is] different every year; I’ve gone since I was a freshman and now I’m going again as a senior,” senior and photo club president McKenzie Ahmadi said. “During my first and second year, I played with the kids. Last year, I [volunteered at] the wrapping station. It was fun to talk to the parents and to see how excited they were about getting the gifts. It was really nice knowing that we [gave them that opportunity.]”

The police department provides a police bus to escort the student volunteers from the school to the shelter and back. Officer Wayne Twombly from the Fair Oaks Police Department has partnered up with Chantilly to sponsor the event for the past five years. In addition to helping collect toys, he also dresses up as Santa during the event.

“Last year, [when] I had just got on my Santa suit and walked into the lobby, a little girl was walking alongside her mother up the hallway toward the lobby,” Twombly said. “Upon seeing Santa, her eyes got as wide as saucers and she yelled ‘Santa Claus!’ and broke away from her mother and jumped into my arms. That brought tears to my eyes. That was my best memory.”

On Tuesday, Dec. 13, during the photo club’s holiday party, members will decorate festive T-shirts to wear on the day of the event.

“A few officers from photo club take pictures of the kids with [Officer Twombly],” Ahmadi said. “They take the pictures on Polaroids so each kid gets to keep their own Polaroid. I thought that was really nice.”

The toy drive brings community members together and gives those in need the chance to enjoy a beautiful holiday.

“I look forward to this event every year; I get pumped,” Twombly said. “I get excited because of the students who take the time and effort to spend it with children whom at no fault of their own, their families have come into hardships. What it does for the [the kids] is what’s gratifying to me.”