News Columns & Blogs

Elves make visit to school

BRADENTON -- Brand new bicycles and big plastic bags of presents were parked and piled everywhere around Rowlett Magnet Elementary’s administration building.


Meeting rooms.

Supply closets.

Even the principal’s office.

“I feel like one of Santa’s elves surrounded by all these toys,” said a grinning Brian Flynn.

“They’re stashed everywhere -- even in our garages,” said Beth Grogan, standing nearby.

Not for long, thanks to the school’s “Mittens Program: Warm up the Holidays.”

It’s a donations-driven volunteer project that will make sure 32 needy Rowlett families and 130-plus children -- students and siblings -- have a merry Christmas.

“Over the last couple of years we’ve seen the increase in the number of people needing help during the holiday season,” Flynn said. “We’re just very fortunate as a school to have many parents who can help other people as well.”

Parents like Grogan and Lori Bower.

“Other parents helped out, but they were the leaders,” he said. “It took some coordination.”

The idea for the project occurred a year ago.

As children will do after they return to school after holidays, they talk with classmates about what they got for Christmas.

One of Grogan’s daughters related how a classmate said he’d gotten nothing.

“We realized because things are tough, not everybody is able to do something for their own children,’ Grogan said. “So we wanted to make sure it happened for kids we have connections to.”

Hence the Mittens Program.

The two moms sent teachers e-mails to be aware of families who might be having a hard time and need help for Christmas.

Said Bower, “We compiled a list from them, then worked closely with office staff and sent a note home, connecting with the parents.”

Said Grogan, “We told them we’d like to offer our assistance to make this a great Christmas for their children. We asked for specific information -- clothes sizes, shoe sizes, things on their child’s wish list -- so we could make those wishes come true.”

The gift ideas were printed on paper mitten cutouts, then pinned to a bulletin board for teachers, staff and parents to take.

Those mittens turned into more than 500 gifts.

Bikes and bike helmets were big, followed by trucks, dolls, puzzles and art supplies.

Each child also received a warm outfit and families got gift cards for food and necessities, too.

“We have families who adopted entire families, and we’ve had people come by and singly do what they could,” Grogan said. “The generosity of the families and staff here has been overwhelming.”

Parents of those 32 families picked up the gifts this past week, and the two women can only imagine the anticipation building in those homes.

“We’re just hoping they wait for Santa and the magic of opening presents on Christmas morning,” Bower said.