St. Petersburg Times Online: News of southern Pinellas County
Place an Ad Calendars Classified Forums Sports Weather

printer version

School brings holiday cheer to some special families

Rio Vista Elementary donates gift baskets of food and toys to 33 families its teachers and PTA say are important to the school.

By DONNA WINCHESTER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 22, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- More than anything, Angela Little wanted Christmas to be merry for her family this year. Nothing fancy, just a few gifts and a nice turkey dinner, the kind of holiday her children deserve.

But because the single mother of four has been out of work since last spring when she was injured on her job, she feared Christmas would be bleak and that her children would be disappointed.

Everything changed when her son de'Vontae, a fourth-grader at Rio Vista Elementary, brought a note home from school saying the family had been selected to receive a holiday gift basket filled with canned goods, toys and a Publix gift certificate.

For Ms. Little, it was the answer to a prayer. She thought about surprising her children, but was too excited about the windfall to keep it to herself. She picked up the gift basket Tuesday and invited her mother and sisters to share Christmas dinner with them.

Ms. Little's family is one of 33 that received gift baskets this year from the school. The families have at least two things in common, said guidance counselor Godfrey Watson, who oversees the project. All are in need of holiday cheer, and all are important to the staff and PTA at Rio Vista.

The school's tradition of caring for needy families at Christmas time goes back at least 20 years, Watson said. Things get under way in early December when he asks the teachers to make lists of children whose families they suspect could use some extra help for the holidays.

Students are encouraged to bring canned goods to fill the baskets. The PTA contributes money for the gift certificates and shops for the toys. The teachers assemble the baskets and greet the families when they pick them up. Godfrey delivers baskets to the families who are unable to come to the school.

This year, the baskets contained some extra holiday cheer. Jim's Harley Davidson in St. Petersburg contributed $1,500, which raised the amount of the gift certificates from $30 to $50. The company also donated two bicycles.

Coming up with names is never difficult, Watson said. Almost two-thirds of the school's population qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch. About one-fourth of the families speak English as a second language. Many parents, like Ms. Little, struggle year round to make ends meet and have an especially difficult time at the holidays.

The need seems to be greater each year, Watson said. Narrowing the list to the resources the school has available has become increasingly difficult.

"The families seemed much more appreciative this year," he said. "It seems like a lot of families are having hard times. There were so many tears."

Back to St. Petersburg area news
Back to Top

© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111
Special Links
Mary Jo Melone
Howard Troxler

From the Times
South Pinellas desks
  • Those Publix vittle bags: an investigative report
  • Gambling-boat operator needs change of luck
  • Downed light pole on I-275 lanes causes spate of wrecks
  • Atkinson: I won't run again for Treasure Island mayor
  • Survivor is in it for the long run
  • Serendipity amid the mess
  • Pinellas helps out recreation programs
  • Task force suggested to deal with homeless
  • Time budget as crucial as your financial one
  • Casino ship official had tax issue
  • School brings holiday cheer to some special families
  • Cashing in on First Night
  • Neighborhood notebook
  • Beach mayor hangs up Santa suit
  • St. Petersburg is where rubble meets the road
  • Legislators lobby city for lobbyists
  • Town leaders reject proposed dog park
  • Before a beginning, an end
  • Crumbley fulfilling lifelong mission
  • Cayll-Skiles stays on run
  • Gulfport wants 49th Street makeover details
  • Letters: County summit was rejuvenating