River Elm School students gifted pyjamas thanks to community donations

One by one, smiling students walk into the gym at River Elm School for an assembly.

The elementary-aged kids were only expecting a holiday sing-a-long but were also treated to a a magical surprise.

“You see all these Santa sacks up here?” school counsellor Amanda Opalko asked from the front of the gym.

“Yeah,” the students replied.

“Has anyone been wondering what’s inside?” Opalko asked.

“Yeah!” The students shouted.

All 245 students were gifted a brand new set of pyjamas.

“When I came in, I was surprised at the presents,” fourth-grader Hamoudi Khater said.

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Some kids, like fellow fourth-grader Izan Matos Valdez, couldn’t wait to try their new pyjamas on.

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“When I saw those (Santa sacks) I thought they were going give something to the class but I didn’t think it was going to be pyjamas,” Matos Valdez said while wearing navy, Christmas-themed jammies.

For years, River Elm School has been trying to get their students outfitted with new sleepwear through a nonprofit organization.

When that wasn’t working out, Opalko took things into her own hands and became the Christmas helper behind Wednesday’s big surprise.

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“A few months ago I was thinking ahead to Christmas and was thinking of what we could do this time of year to make it extra special for our kids,” Opalko said.

She reached out to local businesses and churches for help and they were all on board, hosting pyjama drives and donating gift cards.

Opalko says it was heartwarming to see her vision come to life.

“Over the last few weeks kids have brought up their Christmas list and I’ll ask them, ‘What did you write on them?’ Many of them said, ‘I need a new pair of pyjamas, all of mine are too small or I don’t have any’,” Opalko said.

This Christmas surprise couldn’t be more timely. Friday is pyjama day at River Elm and now every student has a chance to fully embrace the festive spirit.

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“I can’t wait until Christmas!” Matos Valdez said.

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