ATTLEBORO - Christmas spirit rang pure and true in the cafeteria of Bishop Feehan High School on Friday afternoon, where the 21st annual Santa Shop was held to provide gifts for area residents in need.
This year's drive will benefit 193 area families and 498 children for Christmas, organizers said.
Throughout the cafeteria, more than 3,000 toys, games and other gifts were piled high on the tables, and the 600 student volunteers happily gave of themselves in assisting the clients find the perfect gift for their little ones.
One woman could not hold back her tears of joy as she thanked sophomores Maddie Bragraw and Maura Crump, who were also teary-eyed in sharing with the woman's happiness.
"It's amazing what they're doing," the woman said. "It's so wonderful. I have a granddaughter who's going to be very happy."
Five tickets - three for smaller items and two for bigger items - were available for each parents' child, and throughout the cafeteria, many student volunteers carried one overflowing container between them. Others literally had their hands and arms full of gifts for the clients, but despite the fast pace, the students had genuine smiles on their faces.
Seniors Kelsey McMillan and Brenna Dunne were at one of the gift-wrapping tables, and as more clients poured in, the faster the girls' fingers flew as they wrapped the clients' gifts.
"There's something super-infectious about the whole idea of the Santa Shop," Dunne said. "It gives all (the families) a reward, but for us, it's rewarding, too. I think it really speaks to the generous spirit of Feehan ... it's the best event of the whole entire year."
Mixed with the cheerful dispositions of the students were the grateful faces of the residents, many of whom had fallen on hard times and could not afford to purchase gifts for their children.
"I think it's excellent," said Kelly Petipas of Norton, who was one of the first people to arrive. "It's been a big help for a few years for me. The kids are great, and it's a great program," she said.
Another woman appreciated the welcoming atmosphere of the shop as a place where one could say wish holiday cheer upon others freely.
"I love this," said Becky Bedard of Norton. "It's the only place you can come and say, 'Merry Christmas,' and no one gets offended."
Bedard was also grateful to the program for bringing joy into her home on Christmas morning for her three children.
"It's overwhelming," Bedard said of the program.
JUDEE COSENTINO can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.