With a little Santa magic and a whole lot of generous hard work, a local business continued its holiday tradition Tuesday providing a wrapped gift for every single student at an elementary school in Killeen.
Luis and Shelly Salas of Salas Team Realty accompanied about 50 team members to Killeen Elementary School and transformed the gym into a Christmas gift-giving party.
The past three years, the company provided presents to every child at West Ward Elementary School.
“This year, when we saw West Ward combined with East Ward, we knew we were going to have to do more,” said Shelly Salas. “Our team was up for the challenge.”
From last year’s 500 gifts, that included West Ward and other area recipients, the real estate team grew its Christmas list to 1,100 wrapped gifts.
They moved their wrapping party from the Salas Team Realty location to the Killeen Community Center and trucked the mass of presents to the new KISD school on Rancier Avenue.
Steadily through the day, classes took turns moving into the gym, where friendly guests greeted them, then escorted them to a table, where other friendly guests produced wrapped, age- and gender-appropriate gifts.
Each line of students stepped up to a photo station with Santa Claus, then continued to a spot on the gym floor where they opened their gifts and expressed gratitude.
First-grade teacher Aileen Alvarez teared up as she entered the gym with her students, posed for her own photo with Santa and celebrated alongside her students as they opened presents.
“I think it’s awesome,” said Alvarez, a personal friend of the Salas.’ “These kids are so appreciative. I look forward to it so much.”
The teacher said she kept the day a surprise and used it to motivate students’ effort and behavior as the day drew near.
Fifth-grade teacher Jane Hess didn’t disguise her excitement, either. “I love it,” she said. “I’ve been excited since I heard about it.”
Her own three children attend Killeen Elementary School and Hess said she was anxious to see their gifts. “I want to play, too.”
First-graders Leonardo Perez and Dallas Williams said their teacher, Megan Williams, managed to keep the big day a surprise.
“I was surprised,” said Perez, explaining that he saw an inflatable of Santa when he walked in the gym and began to suspect what was in store. “There were a lot of presents.”
“It was awesome,” said pre-kindergarten aide Inez Lawson. She said some students might not get a traditional Christmas celebration, but that the gifts at school would ensure that they experience something special.
“They could see how jolly the people are and experience the love,” Lawson said. “It was so thoughtful. It gives children the chance to see all the glory that goes with Christmas.”
“I think we get more excited than they do,” said Salas. “This is what truly fills our hearts. This is serving our community.”