Saint Nicholas will be visiting Fairfax County a little early this year when the jolly one and his helpers pay a visit to several elementary schools the first week in December, leaving behind backpacks filled with goodies for the preschoolers through third-graders.
"I think it will be a special day," said Christy Winn, a counselor at Mount Eagle Elementary School.
Saint Nicholas' ambassadors will visit six elementary schools — Glen Forest, Graham Road and Timber Lane, all in Falls Church; and Mount Eagle, Mount Vernon Woods and Riverside, all in the Alexandria area — Dec. 4 after school lets out for the day and deliver the stuffed backpacks and decorate the halls. When the children return to class the next day, they'll find a backpack at each desk. The ambassadors will also be there to read and play games with the children.
"I think it's the surprise factor. I'm looking forward to seeing all their faces," Winn said. "For some of these kids, it may be the only gifts they receive this season."
The six schools were chosen because each has at least 50 percent of its student population eligible for the school system's free and reduced-price lunch program. Actually, most of the six have more than 70 percent of its students qualify.
JANE KORNBLUT, executive director of Volunteer Fairfax, which is behind the "visit" said every student in grades pre kindergarten through third grade in those schools will receive the gift backpack, so as not to single out any children.
"The program started in Houston and we're doing it along with 11 other jurisdictions across the country," Kornblut said.
The backpacks are clear with bright color accents and they will be stuffed with toys that have been safety tested, age-appropriate books and small games. The intention was not to fill the backpacks with school-related items, and instead making it more about having fun.
"They're for the kids' enjoyment," Kornblut said. "We have five-and-a-half pallets of stuff in storage."
In all, Volunteer Fairfax will be giving away 2,000 bags, which were to be stuffed Nov. 19 by volunteers.
The program is also doubling as a fund-raiser for the organization, which links volunteers to other nonprofit organizations. Volunteer Fairfax is asking the community to sponsor a child for $25, with a portion of the donation helping to fund the organization’s services.
"Instead of doing a gala, we decided to do 'A Visit from Saint Nicholas,' and help children, which is more compatible with our mission in the community," Kornblut said. "We, as a central resource for volunteers in this community, ... the money we make off this goes back into the community."
THE STUDENTS at the schools will care less about the fund-raiser and more about the fun.
"I think it's going to mean a lot to them," said Carolyn Hyman, a counselor at Mount Vernon Woods. "Anytime little kids get something, they're excited. I'm sure they will be extremely excited."
Besides the surprise, the students will also get to learn about Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century bishop who secretly provided gifts to those in need especially children. He is said to the inspiration for the modern Santa Claus.
"It's not about religion, however," Kornblut said. "It's about the story of Saint Nicholas and ways kids can share with one another."