Jaeden Honeycutt bounced in his seat, his 5-year-old body unable to stifle the excitement he felt.
“Is it a California roll? I sure hope it’s a California roll,” he asked his kindergarten teacher. The stack of red and green presents at her side was torturing his imagination.
All across Newell Elementary School, in every classroom, a similar scenario was playing out.
Bundles of mysterious packages wrapped in the season’s festive colors set in each classroom – one present for each of the 750 students in the school.
Never miss a local story.
And although Jaeden was the only one whose first guess was sushi, his reaction as he tore open the gift was identical to the 749 others who ripped through theirs at the same time – from anticipation to glee to gratitude to pride.
Thanks to an $11,000 grant from First Book-Charlotte, students at Newell went home that day with five new books to call their own.
First Book is a national nonprofit organization that provides reading materials for children in low-income families. Over the last 20 years, the charity has given more than 100 million books to kids across the United States and Canada.
Its Charlotte branch has given 169,000 new books to children in Mecklenburg and Union counties since launching in 2006.
The grants, given twice a year, are supported by donations through individuals, corporations and sponsors.
Last spring Newell Rubbermaid in Huntersville kicked off its sponsorship of Newell Elementary School with a $4,000 donation to First Books-Charlotte, earmarked for students at the school to receive three new books each.
This month Newell Rubbermaid continued that support by helping to fund a portion of the grant that provided five more books to the students. It’s part of an ongoing partnership the company plans to continue.
“We have a particular interest in the education of children. That’s how we got involved in First Book,” said Dan Farley, training manager at Newell Rubbermaid.
The company’s charitable foundation looked for Title One schools to assist, then narrowed down the search to include Newell Elementary, which shares the same name.
“We kind of like it. Our employees, they really like it,” Farley said. “And we’ve decided to continue on with them as opposed as jumping from school to school.”
Farley was one of several employees from Newell Rubbermaid who volunteered to read and distribute the books at the school this month. Many of the children lined up to thank and hug him after they opened their gifts – a gesture that touched Farley as well, who hugged them back.
“Many of these kids don’t have books at home,” said the school’s principal, Diana Evans, as she watched students squeal with excitement after unwrapping their books. “Some do, but the majority of them probably don’t.”
Newell Elementary is listed as a Title One school where 87 percent of its population receives free or reduced lunch.
“I’m going to keep mine in my closet,” said Trinity Gilchrist, 5, whose eyes grew wide when she peeked into the red striped present.
“Books are the things I love,” said Jaeden, as he lined up his books on his desk in the order he was going to read them.
“This is the best day of my life.”