Gifts bring smiles, tears of joy to Kilby Shores

Published 8:52 pm Friday, December 20, 2019

Why did they do this for us?

Why would they buy me a present?

Those were reasonable questions for Kilby Shores Elementary School students to ask after members of Community Church on Thursday brought 522 bags worth of gifts — enough for each student to go home with a full bag.

It left the school community — students, teachers and staff alike — stunned by the church’s kindness and generosity.

It left many at Kilby Shores with smiles and tears of joy.

“It brought tears to the eyes of staff and students,” said Kilby Shores Assistant Principal Jill Paraska, who, along with Principal Lorri Banks, knew Community Church was up to something for about a month, having spoken with the church’s Suffolk campus pastor, Romy Feliciano.

But what that something was, and the magnitude of it, was a huge surprise to everyone.

Every child, from preschool through fifth grade, received a bag of gifts.

A day after it happened, and given a few minutes of quiet after everyone had gone home to start their winter break, Paraska was still grasping for how to verbalize her gratitude.

“It’s definitely hard to even put into words,” Paraska said. “It’s above and beyond what anyone could imagine. So many of the kids were like, ‘Is this for me? Is this really for me? Do I get to keep it?’

“The joy in the kids — you would have honestly thought that Santa, his reindeer and his elves pulled up. That’s the way they reacted. It was definitely that Christmas joy.”

Community Church, which currently meets in Suffolk at King’s Fork Middle School but in January will move to its new building at 1242 Holland Road, arrived at Kilby Shores around lunchtime with a trailer filled with the bags of gifts. As they also have a church in Western Branch, they did the same thing for students of Southwestern Elementary School in Chesapeake.

Community Church Senior Pastor Michael Brueseke said church members felt a great sense of purpose to make a difference. But even they were surprised by their impact.

“What I think was unexpected, maybe for us, is how much the students and the teachers appreciated everything so much,” Brueseke said. “It’s really exciting to get to know you’re making a difference in someone’s life, to make their life a little bit better, but the response, even for us, is just overwhelming in how appreciative they were.”

As church members began to bring the bags inside, the gifts began to fill the entry way as they set up to pass them out to the children.

“That was the most impactful thing,” Paraska said. “Being in the lobby and seeing their faces light up.”

Administrators went around to all the classrooms and asked teachers to sort the students by boys and girls. Teachers, she said, were confused until they got to the front of the school and saw what was before them.

“We still never expected the degree to which they were going to pull up here,” Paraska said. “The amount of gifts, or the type of gifts that they brought, you really expected them to come in with a book, or a small toy for the kids, but it was really incredible. They came in with large gift bags with really great toys. Oh my gosh, from radio-controlled cars, to Lego sets, to interactive baby dolls, you can just imagine. If you walked through the toy store, just picked through each shelf, there was probably a little bit of everything. Each bag was different than the other.”

Community Church had two gifts and a book in each bag for every child.

“You really would have thought that for each child, the church member would have handpicked the gifts for them,” Paraska said. “Every gift was perfect for the child that got it. And the kids were thankful. There was not a disappointed face. Every single child I spoke to was thankful for it.”

Brueseke said many of the gifts were donated by church members, with the rest coming from church money.

Knowing they were going to be sending children home with unexpected gifts, Banks sent out a phone message to parents explaining what their children would be bringing home.

“If they missed it,” Paraska said, “I can just imagine their reaction. I would have loved to hear the conversation from the kids, hearing them talk about it.”

To show their gratitude, every student handwrote a thank-you note for the church and then gave them to Brueseke Friday morning.

“Probably the question I heard the most from kids,” Paraska said, “is why would they do this for them?”

Teachers and staff aimed to help the students understand the “why,” Paraska said.

“We do things for people that we don’t even know,” she said. “That’s the whole joy of Christmas. That’s the act of kindness. … That was the conversation we led with. There’s a bigger picture out there. We don’t always think about ourselves. We do nice things for each other.”

And the pastor answered very simply: “We wanted the students to know that they matter,” Brueseke said. “At our church, we have values that set our culture as a church and as a community. And one of them is to proclaim and become good news. And what that means for us is that we want to not just tell people about God’s love; we want to actually become the good news of God’s love by doing intangible things to show people God’s love. That’s what really drives us to do things like this.”