Students at Lake Park Elementary School in Addison didn't know what to expect when teachers summoned them, grade by grade, into the cafeteria earlier this week.
What they discovered were teachers in elf costumes and tables full of gifts and toys bundled in groups of three for every single child.
The gifts came thanks to the Carol Stream-based Humanitarian Service Project, which collects donations of presents for underprivileged children and families each Christmas.
"I've been a volunteer around here for 20-some years and this is by far the most touching thing I've ever seen," said Paul Yambrovich, Humanitarian Service Project community outreach coordinator. "The kids were just squealing with happiness and laughter and were so excited. It was definitely a very cool sight to see."
The plan for the holiday surprise was born this fall, when the Humanitarian Service Project looked for schools with a high percentage of low-income students for a school supply donation -- another of its annual campaigns.
Founder Karole Kettering met with Lake Park Principal Debra Martello and learned that a majority of her students qualify for the free lunch program. Nearly 73 percent of the school's 415 students are low-income, according Lake Park's 2011 Illinois state report card.
So when Kettering and her staff received about 1,600 donated gifts for the holidays, she knew just where to send them.
"We wanted to do something that would encompass all students," said Yambrovich. "Because if we ask a school who are the neediest students, they give us a list of just some. But, meanwhile, the classmate sitting next to the child receiving gifts might be almost just as needy."
Each child received a new book, a board game like Monopoly, Life or Yahtzee, and a third gift targeted to their age group, such as sports items for the older children in fourth or fifth grade and dolls or action figures for grades one through three.
"Because of this difficult economy, many of our students will receive very little and this may be their only real gift," Martello said in an email to her staff. "I can't begin to tell you how excited and grateful we are for our students and families."