Utter chaos erupted last Friday when the students of Charleston Progressive Academy heard bells ringing in the hallway. They knew a special guest was on his way: Santa Claus.
Charleston Hope, an organization started by College of Charleston freshman and Goose Creek native Emily Hoisington, brought gifts to all the students of Burns Elementary School and Charleston Progressive Academy.
Hoisington got the idea for Charleston Hope last year when she was a senior at Northwood Academy and organized a drive to adopt two classrooms during the holidays.
“It made me want to do it again even more,” she said.
So when she went to college, she started the nonprofit and enlisted the help of classmates and community members to make an even bigger difference in local schools.
More than 200 people showed up at Pure Theatre on King Street to wrap the hundreds of gifts donated for the children.
TheWell, Seacoast Church’s college and young adult ministry that Hoisington attends, donated the food and space for the mass gift wrapping.
“I have five siblings, and we didn’t have that much. One year, a family brought us gifts and I was so thankful and grateful. I want every child to experience that,” said theWell member Suzannah Reece, who was there to help wrap gifts.
Other students were wrapping gifts even though they were in the midst of finals and the beginning of Christmas break.
“When you’re a part of a community, you have to give back to it,” said Mitchell Jones, a College of Charleston freshman.
“It’s good to help people out during Christmas. When you have time to give, you might as well give it,” said Hampton Cokeley, a senior at The Citadel.
Burns Elementary teacher Lisa Ritter was brought to tears seeing her kindergarten students open their gifts.
“This is for these guys. They don’t get much. It’s important for them to see people care from out in the community,” Ritter said.
Charleston Hope vice president and College of Charleston senior Chandler Bridges passed out cookies and ice cream to Ritter’s class before handing out the gifts.
“It’s important just to show future generations that there is hope and people care about them,” Bridges said as students crowded around him to play with their toys.
Charleston Progressive kindergarten teacher Christena Lee said her students have been preparing all month for Christmas by decorating the classroom and reading holiday poems.
“The most important thing is the art of sharing and what it is to share and be loved. ...You may not have a job to buy something, but you can give the gift of helping,” Lee said.
Lee said that organizations like Charleston Hope do make a difference because it “motivates (students) to behave better.”
Charleston Progressive Principal Wanda Wright-Sheats said Charleston Hope’s act of kindness goes right along with the school’s character trait of the month: virtue.
“It exemplifies how the community shows love and teaches virtue and moral responsibility,” Sheats said.
Hoisington said the gifts are not what the children are most excited about.
“It’s amazing getting to see the volunteers working with the kids. They’re excited to see the volunteers. The gifts are just a bonus,” Hoisington said.
Northwood Academy senior and Charleston Hope volunteer Lauren Shipley had similar thoughts.
“The most important thing we are giving is hope. ... As much as the cookies and presents meant to them. The thing that meant the most was us spending time with them,” Lauren said.
Lauren and classmates Olivia Burns and Jules Torrez said they are getting teachers’ contact information so they can come back to Burns to visit the students, who they said didn’t want them to leave.
“The younger kids just need to be loved on,” Hoisington said. “Seeing people love on them that aren’t in their family makes a big difference. They remember the people that come visit them.”
Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Suzannah Reece (left) and Mitchell Jones wrap gifts for Charleston Hope that went to students at Burns Elementary and Charleston Progressive Academy.×
First-grader Damaria Chaplin opens the gift brought to her by Charleston Hope.×
Emily Hoisington watches as students at Charleston Progressive get Christmas gifts.×
Students at Charleston Progressive open gifts brought to them by Charleston Hope.×
Lisa Ritter’s kindergarten students at Burns show her their gifts from Charleston Hope.×
Charleston Hope vice president Chandler Bridges speaks to kindergarten students at Burns Elementary.×