'The best day ever': Washington Elementary students get surprise holiday party, gifts at Elgin school

Eyes got big and smiles got bigger Tuesday morning as a special potbellied guest walked into the lunchroom a couple of minutes late to a surprise holiday celebration at Washington Elementary School in Elgin.

A jolly, bearded fellow in a red suit waved to an enthralled roomful of kindergartners who went wild.

"This is the best day ever!" kindergartner Karter Ahamed yelled out.

Karter and his schoolmates in kindergarten through sixth grade were treated to a winter wonderland celebration put on by the Boys and Girls Club of Elgin and a team from the Elgin Meijer store.

Meijer donated $10,000 for gifts and treats for the 360 students at the Elgin Area School District U-46 school.

A team from the store and the club decorated Monday night and kept the plan a secret from students and teachers until they were called down to the room.

"This is pretty exciting, I wasn't expecting this," fifth-grader Elias Pozos said. "I thought they were bringing us down for just cookies but this is much better."

Kids were brought in by grade to find coloring books with crayons or other activity books waiting for them at the tables and were then served decorated Christmas cookies. Kids took turns visiting with Santa for a high-five or hug and got stockings filled with toys and candy from a helper. Each teacher also received goodies from Crumbl Cookies.

Elgin Meijer store Director Cory Cole said this is the third year of the "Meijer Gives" program, and his team members voted on the idea of giving a holiday party to students from a deserving school.

"We wanted to give back to some kids in our community that could potentially need it, who might not otherwise get a Christmas," Cole said.

Principal Lori Brandes sported some festive, oversized holiday glasses as she welcomed each student to the party.

"This is just so wonderful for our kids," Brandes said. "We have fun during the school day, but this is extra fun."

Brandes said between 85% and 90% of the school's students qualify for free lunches.

"For some of our kids, they might not have the opportunity at home to have gifts or a tree or to see Santa, so this gives them that great experience," she said.

Elgin Boys and Girls Club CEO Cathy Russell halfheartedly apologized to teachers for basically assuring that not a lot of schoolwork would get done the rest of the day.

"I think now more than ever, adults showing up for kids in a positive way is super important," Russell said. "We picked Washington Elementary because we knew there were a lot of kids here that deserve a fantastic Christmas."

The club serves more than 1500 youth daily at 33 sites throughout Aurora, Elgin, Hanover Park, Schaumburg, South Elgin and Streamwood.

  Washington Elementary School first-grader Emily Hernandez leans in for a hug from Santa Claus during a surprise holiday party at the Elgin school Tuesday. Rick West/
  Kindergartner Angeliah Acevedo reacts as she spies Santa Claus after walking into a surprise holiday party at Washington Elementary School in Elgin Tuesday. Rick West/
  Kindergartner Pedro Mateo excitedly heads back to his table after getting a stocking full of presents and a high-five from Santa during a surprise holiday party Tuesday for the 360 students at Washington Elementary School in Elgin. Rick West/
  Fourth-grader Elijah Lewis checks out what's in his stocking during a surprise holiday party Tuesday at Washington Elementary School in Elgin. "This is the best day of my life," he yelled out earlier. Rick West/
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