The presents were stacked on the table with care, in the hopes that a bus driver soon would be there.
The three mounds of gifts were donated by the Central Valley School District school bus drivers for three low-income Central Valley families. Last Thursday they were piled at the district’s satellite facility in the old University High School awaiting a driver to deliver them to the counselors at Opportunity, Broadway and University elementary schools for distribution.
This is the second year bus drivers have banded together to help local families. The drivers used to pool their resources to help the family of a fellow driver every year, but last year none of the families needed help, said driver Mike Rathbone, who heads the effort. “We called the local schools and found out they had many families who needed help,” he said.
He and the other drivers like being able to play Santa Claus to a family who might otherwise go without. “It was more fulfilling for us to give to kids,” he said.
Three families with two children each were helped this year. They were selected by the counselor at each school. The children all got hats and gloves and some clothes. Some needed boots. Each child also got a “special request” item. One child wanted a portable CD player. Another wanted art supplies.
Each family also received a turkey, a ham, canned food, cereal and a few treats, like candy canes. “There’s stuff to make several different meals,” said transportation training supervisor Marie Scott.
Scott did some of the shopping. She was only told the age, size and sex of each child. “We don’t know the families at all,” she said.
When picking out clothes, Scott said she tried to picture a child wearing them. “It’s hard when you don’t know them, but it is fun,” she said.
Not knowing who will receive the gifts works out well since bus drivers often know the children. “Families will write the schools a thank-you note and they’ll send it to us,” Rathbone said. “They don’t know who gave it to them and we don’t know who we’re giving it to. It’s kind of better that way.”
This year’s collection effort was successful even though times are tough for many. “This year we gathered close to $300 in cash to buy the presents and the food,” Rathbone said. “I couldn’t do it without my fellow drivers.”
As they sit down to their own Christmas meals, the bus drivers can rest secure in the knowledge that three other families are also having a more joyous holiday. “I think they should have a good Christmas,” said Scott.