NEW BRUNSICK, N.J. -- An elementary school gym teacher is teaching her students the gift of giving by raising enough money to buy a present for every single student in her school.
Jennifer Olawski is an educator at Livingston Elementary School in New Brunswick. Olawski first started her Christmas gift project in 2016, when she was a teacher at Community Charter School in Paterson. It was what a first-grader said that touched her deeply.
“I said are you getting excited for Christmas and she was like not really and I said how can you not be excited for Christmas she just looked at me and she told me she’d never received a Christmas present,” Olawski said.
Olawski made her mind up that night to purchase the little girl a gift. Then she thought about her other students, and decided to get 500 Christmas cards, one for each.
“I still felt something was missing,” said Olawski. It was then that she came up with the idea to start a GoFundMe page, raising enough money that year to buy a gift for every student.
“I had students crying even before they opened the gifts,” said Olawski. “Some just got so emotional, it’s just such a touching moment.”
She did the same in 2017. This year, she decided to bring the tradition over to the school where she now teaches, Livingston Elementary. The principal, Nadine Sanchez, didn’t hesitate.
“I think this will mean a great deal to all our students,” said Sanchez. “I think they’re going to be completely surprised I think it’s going to mean a lot for some of our kids, I want them to know there are people who care that much about them.”
In October, Olawski started a GoFundMe page again, with the goal of $5,000. She doubled that goal – raising over $10,000. She credits companies like A.C. Moore for allowing her to purchase the same gift in bulk. She’s also grateful to Home Depot for donating a truck for her to transport all the boxes of items to the school.
While she spent previous years wrapping gifts in her two-bedroom apartment, this year she’s got the community involved. Kindergarten and first-graders will all receive the same gift and second through fifth-graders another gift.
“We do encourage our students to pay it forward so I think this is a great opportunity for our students to now think about how they can impact the lives of others and pay it forward,” Sanchez said.
Tonight, dozens of volunteers – teachers, parents, even the school security guard – pitched in to begin wrapping the presents. PIX11 has been sworn to secrecy as to what the gifts are so the students will be surprised.
“Everyone was willing to pitch in and we got so much wrapped tonight, it was amazing to see the community coming together,” Olawksi said.
By the end of the evening, a pile of gifts were up against the wall, as high as the top of the windows in the classroom. The volunteers were able to wrap all the presents for students kindergarten through second grade. They still have to wrap presents for the three additional grades.
The gifts will be handed out to the students next Wednesday.