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Maemae School students and staff find joy in helping others


    Above, students marveled at the gifts they pooled for needy children.


    Maemae Elementary Vice Principal Ned Uemae, above, gathered donated gifts at the school assembly Tuesday.


    Above, Fourth-grader Haley Yonemori Takanishi prepared to hand out candy canes.


    Fourth-graders Joyce Wong, above left, and Skyla Dii sorted through gifts during a Christmas assembly Tuesday at Maemae Elementary School in Nuuanu. The students buy and collect presents every year for children in need locally. “It kinda makes me wanna cry, and it makes me feel really happy,” Skyla said.

Instead of receiving presents from Santa, nearly 700 students at Maemae Elementary School in Nuuanu are the ones who do the giving each Christmas at a special assembly.

In a tradition going on more than 10 years, each grade level comes up to the front with new toys and toiletries, to be wrapped and given to needy children by charitable agencies. There was a lot of singing and dancing to Christmas carols between the gift presentations Tuesday on the big lawn next to the cafeteria. Santa made his rounds, greeting and shaking hands, while his elves passed out candy canes.

Matt Nakamura, a counselor who coordinates student activities, said he loves seeing the marvel on the kids’ faces when they see the gifts piled high and overflowing the tables, knowing they contributed.

Principal Lenn Uyeda commended the students for their generosity, reminding them that their main goal was to cultivate values of “kindness, respect and appreciation.” Nakamura said the Christmas tradition also reflects the school’s core values of laulima (which means many hands working together), onipaa (steadfastness), aloha (love and kindness) and kuleana (responsibility).

Some of the presents were to be delivered to the Institute for Human Services’ women and children’s branch, and to the homeless at Next Step Shelter, which are connected to the Laulima Giving Program. But this year a majority of the gifts were destined for Shriners Hospitals for Children, where a staffer said they were “heaven sent” because there are more patients than usual, Nakamura said.

Skyla Dii, a fourth-grader, came up with the idea of wearing a fluffy white beard and a pointy, striped hat attached to huge elf ears as one of Santa’s helpers. She scurried around, stacking dozens of presents neatly as the students brought them up. She bought a HedBanz board game to donate.

Giving presents to people in the hospital and to kids who don’t have many toys, “it kinda makes me wanna cry, and it makes me feel really happy,” Skyla said.

Third-graders took the extra step of doing chores at home to earn money to buy presents, then went on a field trip to shop at Toys R Us earlier this month. Miye Iida said she helped her sisters and mom hang up Christmas lights to earn $20 and had fun buying airbrush markers, a sketchbook marker set and a teddy bear play set for girls.

“It made me feel good (earning money) because I knew what I was going to do with it. Usually, people buy me stuff, and now … it made me feel happy because it’s going to the kids that don’t have that much,” Miye said.

Kahulu Kawai took out the rubbish for two weeks and changed the can liners for $20. It was the first time he raised money himself, but he didn’t mind because “I knew that kids less fortunate than us would get presents, too.” He bought two sets of Lego Mixels.

About 30 teachers also helped struggling families through their Sensible Santa Club, which Nakamura started about 20 years ago to take pressure off everyone buying gifts for each other, he said. They all pool their money to donate to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Good Neighbor Fund, which collects money for Helping Hands Hawaii’s Adopt a Family program. This year they donated about $250.

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