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Volunteers Brighten Day for Students

Children arrive at school to find backpacks filled with surprises.

Santa came early to a few Fairfax County schools last week.

Students in pre-kindergarten through second grade classes at Bucknell, Hybla Valley, Cameron, Parklawn and Weyanoke arrived at school Friday morning to find backpacks filled with books and toys sitting on their desks.

"This is an awesome day,” said Patricia Berrios, a first-grader in Carolyn Lennox’s class at Bucknell Elementary School.

She enjoyed everything that came in the backpack—the stickers, stuffed dog, book, ball and glasses.

While some students savored each item as they unpacked them, others dug right into the goodies.

Daniel Diaz, a second-grader in Pam Christner’s class at Bucknell Elementary School,

didn’t stop to take off his regular backpack off before he dove into his new backpack.

The effort was part of the annual “Celebration of Giving and Sharing” where 175 volunteers help the organization Volunteer Fairfax surprise more than 2,000 deserving elementary students by distributing colorful backpacks filled with all kinds of surprises.

This program was established 13 years ago by Volunteer Houston, which coordinated the distribution of more than 38,000 backpacks from a dozen volunteer centers last year.

In other areas of the country, the program is known as “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” Recognizing the diverse student body served by the program, Volunteer Fairfax changed the name in 2005 to “A Celebration of Giving and Sharing.”

More than 2,000 backpacks were distributed thanks to the more than 175 volunteers who participated and 124 pre-K to 2nd grade elementary classes in schools with very high rates of poverty received backpacks. Volunteer Fairfax raised over $33,000 in donations for the program.

Cheri Zeman, executive director for United Community Ministries (UCM) was on hand to talk about the importance of sharing and caring. She helped students unpack their backpacks at Bucknell Elementary School and talked to students about helping others.

PFC Dan Griffith and PFC Dave Plaska also visited Christner’s class. Plaska asked the students who they thought had given them the backpacks. The answers ranged from elves to Santa to “I don’t know.”

The answer to “Did it make you smile?” was a unanimous “Yes.”

“They just want to make you smile; they don’t want to be known,” Plaska said. “Now it’s your turn to make somebody else smile.”

Students at Hybla Valley Elementary School were just as excited about their new goodies.

In the spirit of sharing, Ashley Carranza said that she would take home her new things and share them with her 2-year-old sister.

“They are so happy this morning,” said Dorothy Andrews, a kindergarten teacher at Hybla Valley Elementary School.