Editor's note: the following was first published in the Dec. 31, 2012 print edition of The Compass.
It's early morning and dozens of enthusiastic junior high students are huddled around tables overflowing with toys and books and wrapping paper in the gymnasium at Persalvic Elementary in Victoria.
There is a buzz in the air as they prepare to wrap some 380 presents that will soon by donated to the Toy Tree at the Trinity Conception Square Mall in Carbonear. The gifts will later be distributed to children in need this Christmas.
Where normally there would be the squeaking of sneakers resonating throughout the cavernous room, now all anyone can here is the scrunching of paper and the ripping of tape.
Some students are naturals. Their gifts are wrapped with laser-like precision, while others finish with packages wrapped in two different kinds of paper.
But, that does not matter; it's the thought that counts, anyway.
On this day, the gymnasium has been turned into Santa's workshop and the students in Grades 7 to 9 at Persalvic are the elves.
And, just like the elves you see on film and television, the students smile as they work. There is even the soft sound of a Christmas carol in the air.
As each gift is wrapped, one of the students quickly whisks it away to place under the Christmas tree at the back of the gym. There, the presents will rest until their trip to the Toy Tree at the mall later in the afternoon.
Shopping for and wrapping the gifts is something the students took great pride in accomplishing.
"I know I always look forward to coming out and wrapping up gifts," said Grade 9 student Alex Layden. "It's really fun and you get to be with your friends.
"It's really high-spirited."
Alex said all of the students "feel great" about helping those less fortunate than they are.
"It makes me feel special to know that I contributed," she said.
Alex's classmate, Trevor Piercey, shared similar sentiments.
"I know I like to wake up on Christmas morning and have stuff under the tree, and now there will be other people who have that," he said.
Wrapping presents for the less fortunate is not a new thing at Persalvic. Traditionally, the older grades have done a Secret Santa amongst themselves, but six years ago Grade 8 and music teacher Chris Snelgrove decided to have his students bring in the money they intended to spend on their fellow classmates and put it toward a gift for the Toy Tree.
Since then, it has grown to encompass all of the older grades at the school, and it's now believed that Persalvic is the biggest single contributor to the Toy Tree.
"It has grown each year," said Persalvic principal Byron King.
For the past three years, the school has had a partner in the local Wal-Mart, which matches, dollar-for-dollar, the total raised by the school.
This year, the school raised some $1,300, with help from the Victoria Carpet Shop. Adding the contribution from Wal-Mart, the total added up to $2,600.
"It is a lot of money," said Snelgrove.
The gifts will be distributed by the Salvation Army.
The true meaning of Christmas is not about getting gifts; it is about giving to others. That is the main lesson learned by students at the school, but it is not the only one.
"They learn about citizenship and helping everyone in the community ... they're also learning the life skills and learning to manage money," said Snelgrove. "Christmas is not all about getting gifts. It's about being kind and caring to other people and for a young boy or girl to make that statement, it's profound."