Santa and the Berthoud Fire Department bring holiday magic to a special group

By Katie Harris

The Surveyor

Jingling bells and anticipatory whispers announced Santa’s arrival at Berthoud Elementary’s early childhood classroom Thursday, Dec. 21, just hours before the preschoolers were dismissed for winter break.

Santa arrives at Berthoud Elementary School with a bag of gifts for children who participate in the Thompson Integrated Early Childhood Program. The joint effort between the school and the Berthoud Fire Protection District has been going on for the past six years.

Santa has arrived at the school bearing gifts for the past six years, thanks to a partnership between the Berthoud El location of the Thompson Integrated Early Childhood Program and Berthoud Fire Protection District. Each year teacher Emily Vanderwall compiles a wish list for her 30 students and sends it to the fire department. The firefighters, accompanied by Santa Clause himself, then make a special appearance during the class’s holiday party to bring each child a hand-selected present.

Firefighter Andy Berger, who joined the delivery crew for the fourth time this year, said the gift-giving tradition is just as exciting for the firefighters as it is for the kids.

“Each year our front office lets us know when the giving tree is set up and we all go and pick out at least one or two names, and we pick up whatever’s on their lists,” he said. “The firefighters buy all the gifts, so it’s really exciting when we recognize our wrapping and get to watch the kids open the presents we picked out.”

For Vanderwall’s class, the majority of which consists of students who qualify through low-income and at-risk programs Head Start and Colorado Preschool Program or due to special needs, the effort of the firefighters is the highlight of the holiday season.

“Every year my parents and children are surprised and delighted to receive gifts,” she said. “The parents are so grateful that someone took time to think of their child at this special time of year by purchasing a gift specific to what their child has asked for from Santa.”

For the long-time preschool teacher, the joy her students feel is best evidenced by their smiles and laughter.

“The children delight in seeing Santa in their very own classroom,” she said. “They’re amazed that he would make a special trip just to visit them at school.”

Berger, who’s had the opportunity to take on the role of Santa in years past, said knowing a lot of the students in the Early Childhood Program are in need, and seeing how happy they are to see Santa and receive their gifts, makes it all worthwhile.

“This partnership between our preschool and the Berthoud Fire Department helps build the bond between our firefighters and our community,” said Vanderwall. “The firefighters’ act of service is a beautiful demonstration of the magic and generosity of the holiday season.”

As Santa handed out gifts to the wide-eyed preschoolers, surrounded by the families, teachers and firefighters who worked together to make the moment possible, it was hard to tell who enjoyed the experience more, the gift receivers or the gift givers, but there was no doubt the holidays became a little more magical for everyone in the room that day.



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