PATERSON, NJ- The cafeteria of the Paterson Community Charter School of Paterson (CCSP) bustled with anticipation and excitement on Monday as each of their more than 500 students received early Christmas gifts at the hands of Jennifer Olawski.

Olawski, a physical education teacher at the school, began the “500 Presents, 500 Smiles” effort in 2016 and this year surpassed her fundraising goal of $4,000 in just one month through the a Go Fund Me campaign. She also enlisted the help of family, friends and colleagues to wrap and deliver each of the gifts which include coloring books, a warm winter hat and a pair of gloves.

“It’s great to get to show the kids they are loved and appreciated and someone is in their corner.  They don’t always get that,” said Ms. Olawski.  “It is something they will remember forever.”

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According to a statement released by CCSP, 87% of their students qualify for free or reduced lunch, the federal standard for students living in poverty. In more simple terms, this means that for many of the students and their families choices have to be made between getting gifts for the holidays or paying for basic necessities like food, heat and healthcare.

This isn’t a choice that Olawski believes should ever have to be made, and therefore has proudly led this successful effort for two years. Asked about the response of students to realizing they will have a Christmas gift of their own Olawski said, “they are always happy and grateful.”