by Amie Sites
Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, Buddy the elf and the Grinch visited Fairview Elementary Friday afternoon. During the visit, every child – kindergarten through fifth grade – and faculty member at the school received a Christmas gift from Lifegate Church.
Connie Etherington, of Lifegate Church, read a story over the public announcement system to the elementary before they received their gifts. The story talked about a secret at Fairview elementary and the secret later told to the kids was “you are special, there is an amazing plan for your life and you are loved.”
After the story was read, several faculty members had tears in their eyes.
Students were then handed out stockings with their name on it from a box in the classrooms. The stockings had gifts inside them and displayed each student’s name. Friday’s event was a surprise to the students.
First-grade teacher Miss Scagnoli handed out stockings to her class as they all erupted with cheers. The class waited to open the stockings until everyone had received one. Student Noah Corbitt said his favorite gift in his stocking was “a really cool flashlight.”
Lifegate lead pastor Andy Weil, who has been lead pastor for 13 years, said the idea to give Christmas gifts to all the students – 480 gifts in total – came from children’s pastors Kyle and Julie Forgey.
“We decided to adopt Fairview this holiday and go in and bless the kids,” Weil said. “We had tables set around in the foyer in our church that listed the age and whether the gift was for a girl or boy. The church people stepped right up and took care of it.”
Kyle Forgey said he and his wife worked at a few different churches in the past, which focused on loving and reaching out in the community. He said they have been doing that at Lifegate Church.
“We met with Principal Hess and talked with her about how we could partner with them and so everyone at the school knew they were loved,” Forgey said of Principal Chris Hess.
Forgey said they started the stockings a little before Thanksgiving and gave people in the church about a month to grab a sock and fill it. He said gifts ranged from small Nerf guns, coloring books and crayons and army men with parachutes to nail polish, bath soaps and lots of candy.
“I don’t want it to seem like we’re doing this to draw people in. We just want to finds ways to serve and love the community,” Forgey said. “We have a strong open invite.”
Weil said he just wants the community to know Lifegate Church is here to serve and love the community.
Students throughout the school squealed with delight as they opened their gifts. Several kids hid their gifts from the Grinch as he visited the classrooms.
In Mrs. Bowyer’s classroom, a student exclaimed it was “the best day ever.” Other children ran up to show their teachers the various gifts they received.
Hess said she was approached about the idea in September and was shocked and delighted to hear they wanted to give a gift to every student.
“I’m so happy to see this worked out,” Hess said. “It’s wonderful to see all the reactions.”
Weil said they are constantly looking for ways to bless the community.
The church also does single mother oil changes for free. They cook meals at the senior center on George Street and around Thanksgiving, they go buy cakes, cookies and cobblers from D&R Fruit Market and give them to other people.
“I don’t believe it was by accident to do this for the elementary school,” Weil said. “I hope we’re not only a blessing to students and faculty, but I hope it will also bless our community.”