LACONIA — In only its second year, "The ESSence of Giving" is already well on its way to becoming a holiday tradition at Elm Street School.
More than 140 students took part in the event Saturday morning which provided students with an opportunity to select and wrap Christmas gifts for their family members and loved ones.
''There was a line waiting all the way back to the door when we got here to open the gym Saturday morning,'' said first grade teacher Donna-Marie Gamlin, who came up with the idea for the program which was started last year.
Gamlin said that members of VISTESS (Volunteers in Service to Elm Street School) collected about 1,500 gifts this year and that the gifts were set up in the school's multi-purpose room where they were grouped in different categories like a department store for the student shoppers. Students then shopped for presents and then wrapped them with the assistance of adult volunteers.
''Some of the students even brought in their own toys which they had outgrown so that we could use them as gifts,'' said Gamlin.
As children shopped and wrapped their gifts, their parents and family members were served hot cocoa and snacks in the school library so that the element of surprise for the student gifts could be preserved.
''The best thing is that it didn't cost one cent. Every gift was donated by some very generous and thoughtful people,'' said Gamlin, who estimated that more than 30 volunteers were involved in Saturday's event by bringing the collected gifts to the school, setting up tables in the gym where the gifts were displayed and helping the children wrap the gifts.
Leftover gifts will go to the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, along with cash that was collected at collection canisters set up in the hall and inside the library. Last year some $385 was collected for the food pantry.
Fifth grader Ashlynn Baron, 10, said that she was wrapping presents for seven people. ''It's a good program. Kids get free presents to give to their family and it makes them feel really good to be able to give,'' she said.
''I'm getting presents for my Mom and Dad and sister and brother. It's a lot of fun,'' said fourth grader Kiara Ellsworth.