PENDLETON -- They may not be fat, white-bearded or wear red suits, but they might as well be Santa Claus to 18 kindergarten pupils in Buffalo's Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Institute.
Tuesday, 17 student leaders from Starpoint High School traveled to the elementary school to give the economically disadvantaged children Christmas presents and snacks, as well as some of their time and attention.
"We went there to make sure these kids had at least some sort of Christmas. We bought some clothing and a toy for each of them and played games with them," said Ashley M. Poli, a 16-year-old Starpoint junior.
An 18-year-old senior, Jennifer L. Vorpahl, said, "We started doing this two years ago because we know we are lucky we go to a nice school and that we all have a nice Christmas every year. So we decided to make sure kids who don't have it so good get presents and have a nice time."
The day was a success almost before it started as the young pupils waited with anticipation and held up letters their individual student sponsors recently mailed to them, to make sure they knew who they were.
"You could see they are less fortunate than a lot of the others. Like the kid I had acted like it was Christmas already when I gave him a pair of gloves. He was so excited," said Lauren M. Bordonaro, a 17-year-old senior.
She said she and Vorpahl "got our kids the same things: robots and little Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, so they could play together."
Vorpahl said, "The robots lighted up and made a lot of noise, so you knew that was going to be a big hit."
Some of the stories about the party were touching.
Poli said she gave a girl coloring books, a Princess Barbie Doll set, some pink and purple socks and a scarf.
"She was so excited to get the socks that she wanted to take her shoes off and try them on right there . . .," Poli said. "She put the cardboard crown on her head from the Barbie set right away. When I asked her what she wanted from Santa Claus, she said her mom didn't take her to see Santa this year, so she wasn't really expecting him to come."
Amanda M. Boron, a 17-year-old senior, said she gave a boy the game "Trouble" and a fleece sweat shirt.
"He said I'm going to take this [sweat shirt] home to show my mom," Boron said, and he played the game with Boron and a couple of other children.
Vorpahl said, "One little girl didn't want to open her present because she wanted to take it home and show it to her mother all wrapped up."
Vorpahl said the students each spent $20 on presents for their child, but added, "We got a lot for it."
Becker said school officials also sent the pupils a package of art supplies, including paper, crayons, pencils and Play-Do, which they all began playing with while they ate another gift: chocolate.
"I called my mom when it was over and told her that it was the best experience to see those kids so happy just because of those little presents," Becker said. "Even gloves. For us, getting gloves would be, 'Oh thanks mom and dad.' But it was special to those kids. It made me realize not everyone gets what we take for granted so we should really appreciate what we have."
"It was definitely an eye-opener," Vorpahl said.
"It definitely put you in the Christmas spirit," Bordonaro added.
Presents were not the only attraction for the kids, Poli said. Several of the youngsters also enjoyed playing games with their older visitors.
"We were only with them for about an hour," Vorpahl said, "but they really seemed to enjoy our company."