NEW BRUNSWICK — For the third straight year, elementary school teacher Jennifer Olawski is piloting a simple mission: making sure every one of her students has a gift to open on Christmas morning.

There is one significant change: Olawski has taken this charity, as well as her career, from Paterson to New Brunswick. There, her 2018 "Reason for the Season" fundraiser brought in nearly twice the amount of her initial $5,000 goal.

She said "it was hard to leave Paterson" after five years, and she found it an equal, internal struggle to come to her new boss at Livingston Elementary School about continuing her gift-giving idea.

"I approached my principal about it, and because it's something that is so meaningful to me, I was a little hesitant to ask her if it would be alright if I did this in her school," Olawski said.

Luckily, the principal — and other administrators, teachers, and even the district superintendent — got on board 100 percent, according to Olawski. It only took one viewing of a video of Olawski's previous efforts for the principal to ask, "What can I do to help you with this?"

Now all those colleagues are helping out, making this a much bigger event than before. Some have gone to local stores with Olawski to pick out gifts, and others will be assisting in present-wrapping on Dec. 12, 13, and 14 before the shiny packages are given away to students on Dec. 19.

For Olawski, it helped her recognize her purpose in a new educational environment, and reinforced her idea of demonstrating acts of kindness through teaching.

"I realized that the holiday gift-giving event that I've been doing for the past few years, that should be continued here," she said. "I just think every child deserves a little something to make them feel extra special."

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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