PATERSON — In the weeks leading up to Christmas, elementary school teacher Jennifer Olawski asked a first-grader what she wanted for the holiday. The little girl said she had no idea.

"The fact that she didn't know what she wanted really spoke to me, in the sense that everyone knows what they want for Christmas," Olawski said.

At the Community Charter School of Paterson, about 87 percent of the more than 500 students qualify for free lunch. As Christmas approached, inspired by that first-grader, Olawski said she wanted to give each of these kids something, and started writing cards to the students in her classes.

That amounted to about 200 children. But the teacher said she still wanted to do more.

So, she started a GoFundMe page to provide every student enrolled at the school with an art kit, so all of them could have at least one present to open on Christmas morning.

The idea, she said, was to let them know that "they're all important, and that they're all cared for, and that there's someone in their corner because they don't always have someone rooting for them."

She got a phenomenal response from adults who saw her page. The kind words those people shared with her, even more than the money they donated, "really touched my heart."

With the help of family and friends, Olawski made sure every kit was personally wrapped. When the presents were distributed, one boy came up to her, without even opening the gift, with tears in his eyes and hugged her tight.

That proved to Olawski that just one act of kindness, something to make kids' faces light up, was worth all the time and energy she put into the endeavor.

"They don't have much, yet somehow, they're always happy," she said. "And it kind of puts everything into perspective."

Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's First News" and is New Jersey 101.5's morning drive breaking news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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