By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — Lynnfield Middle School’s cafeteria transformed into Santa’s Workshop on Dec. 17, when the middle school held its eighth annual holiday gift drive.
The highly anticipated event was a huge success once again. Middle school students and their families donated 1,500 gifts and gift cards to families in need.
The middle school once again partnered with the Department of Children and Families’ Lynn office, which distributed the gifts to 15 needy families. There were so many gifts donated this year that DCF officials loaded them into several cars while filling in for Santa and his sleigh.
According to Media Specialist Sue Owens, the LMS Student Council did most of the organizing for the gift drive along with staff and parent volunteers. Owens, sixth grade science teacher Patricia Hazelton and fifth grade English teacher Becky Petrin worked together once again to keep tabs on every family’s needs and every child’s wish.
“I think this was our best gift drive ever,” said Owens. “Everybody came through. It was fantastic that we were able to fulfill so many wishes.”
Hazelton, who launched the gift drive eight years ago, concurred with Owens’ sentiment.
“Our students truly are givers,” said Hazelton.
Students donated gifts large and small to children of all ages. Every child who received gifts had a wish list and students worked diligently to grant every child’s wish. Students also donated items to parents as well such as portable cribs, highchairs, gift cards to stores and supermarkets and gently used items.
In addition to middle school students, Lynnfield High School students donated gifts to this year’s drive as well. After high school student Amanda Mazzarella reached out to Owens and Hazelton, the high school’s Kindness Club began collecting gifts for stocking stuffers.
“They told us they missed the gift drive and they donated over 50 stockings,” said Owens. “Not only did the high school students donate the stockings, these stockings were filled to the brim with incredible items.”
Hazelton was amazed by the high school students’ generosity.
“The high school kids really helped us out this year with the stockings,” said Hazelton. “They made a big difference.”
Some children wished for large ticket items such as an Xbox and the Apollo Team donated a new bicycle to a needy family. Some of the requests boys had this year included basketballs, Legos and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures. A number of teenagers requested gift cards as well.
While a number of girls requested dolls and one family asked for a Little Tikes kitchen set, Hazelton said there was a common gift theme for girls this year.
“Frozen was big this year,” said Hazelton. “We had Frozen sheets, Frozen comforters, Frozen outfits and Frozen pajamas.”
“We had Olafs in all kinds of different sizes,” Owens added.
One hundred and sixty student volunteers and the majority of the LMS faculty wrapped the 1,500 gifts donated this year in the cafeteria. Additionally, students and teachers transported the gifts from the media center, which was overflowing with presents, to the auditorium. Students used carts to bring gifts from the auditorium’s stage to the cafeteria.
“It’s really like Santa’s Workshop,” said Hazelton.
“We had probably 100 students moving all of the gifts,” Owens added.
Owens said the generosity of middle school students and their families is truly amazing.
“They always find a way to do this,” said Owens. “They are always excited about it. They really realize there are people in need who need help.”
Middle School Principal Stephen Ralston said this year’s gift drive is a testament to the generosity of LMS students and the Lynnfield community.
“It gets bigger and bigger each year,” said Ralston. “Being able to help out as many families as we can is absolutely tremendous.”
Hazelton personally thanked LMS families for bending over backward to help make the holiday season special for needy families.
“The parents are essential,” said Hazelton. “The parents who routinely come back every year really make it easy with everything, from printing labels, organizing gift wrap and sorting presents.”
The two teachers said the LMS faculty played an instrumental role in this year’s gift drive. Teachers covered their colleagues’ classes so they could help organize the donated gifts. After the school bell rang, a slew of teachers headed down to the café to start wrapping with students.
“We could not do this without the teachers,” said Owens.
“They are all here helping out,” said Hazelton. “It’s great.”
DCF social worker Brit Carlson personally thanked the LMS community for granting wishes for needy families once again.
“We look forward to working with Sue Owens, the students, teachers and parents in Lynnfield every year,” said Carlson. “They are helping make Christmas a little more special for families in need.”
DCF social worker Jennifer Santiago agreed with Carlson’s sentiment.
“The students here are absolutely amazing,” said Santiago. “The teachers and everyone who helped coordinate this event are amazing. They are really helping out needy families.”
Hazelton and Owens said they are both looking forward to next year’s gift drive.
“We will be buying gift wrap on Dec. 26,” said Hazelton.