George Mason University students and alumni raised more than $1,000 to provide 86 presents to low-income children enrolled in Kids in Action, according to the Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation, which oversees the elementary after-school programs.
Students with George Mason's Hillel organization — the center for Jewish campus life — used a combination of email blasts, on-campus fundraisers and Internet crowdfunding to raise the cash needed to buy presents for all 86 children in Arlington's elementary after-school program.
The effort followed a smaller fundraiser last year, where money was raised to buy personalized gifts for 30 elementary school students at Carver Community Center's elementary after-school program. The gifts answered each child's letter to Santa.
Kids in Action programs are used by a diverse group of low-income families, according to the county. For instance, the 40 students currently at the Carver Community Center, at 1415 S. Queen St., speak at least five languages, come from at least nine countries and have myriad religious and ethnic backgrounds. Most of them receive free or reduced-price lunch at school.
“It was incredible getting to know the students before I met them. Picking out their gifts from Santa was so rewarding, I’m honored to be part of the experience again this year,” GMU alumna Liz Levin, who helped lead the fundraising efforts for Carver with Hillel for the last two years, said in a statement.
The GMU students picked out and wrapped each child's present based on letters to Santa they wrote this year.
Gifts to the Carver students were handed out last week. The remaining presents will be given to students at Charles Drew, Walter Reed and Langston-Brown community centers Thursday and Friday.
"It will be really wonderful to see how thrilled our kids are to get gifts that were special to them," Emily Thrasher, also a GMU almuna and an assistant director with the county Parks and Recreation Department, said in a statement.
"I’m really proud that this year we’ve been able to expand to bring this incredible experience to kids at more centers in Arlington. It is all thanks to the generosity of my fellow students and alumni, and I couldn’t be more grateful."
George Mason Hillel provides a wide range of programs and social and religious services to the 1,500 Jewish students on campus.