Sharing the gift of warmth this winter

By Greg Gelpi

With gifts to warm the spirit and to warm the body, Hendrix Drive Elementary School celebrated the holiday with singing and giving Friday.

School staff crocheted, quilted and collected about 400 quilts and afghans to give "hugs" to Hendrix Drive students.

"That's what Ms. (Georgia) Philpot wants these quilts to represent n a hug from Hendrix Drive," Principal Kelly Veal said. Philpot, the school's nurse, organized the event.

And the children buzzed with excitement, some unable to hold back from opening the afghans before being told to do so.

"It's so pretty," 10-year-old Nadia Prigione said. "I'm going to give it to my mom."

Prigione, a native of Argentina, opened her bag to find a red, white and blue afghan that reminded her of the American flag.

Sean Alexander, 10, was happy with his quilt covered in pictures of street signs.

"I'm going to take it home and put it on my bed and sleep on it," Alexander said. "That's something I've always wanted was a cool blanket."

Mark Nance, 9, plans to give his old blanket to his sister, he said, proud of his new one.

"I'm going to sleep with it every night," Nance said.

The afghans were handed out tucked into white paper bags at the school's holiday assembly Friday.

School students sat in a circle in the cafeteria and sang traditional holiday songs led by chorus teacher Roger Ruzow before being surprised by the gifts.

The quilts came from within the school from staff members and as far away as Michigan and California. The community rallied behind the project as Delta and Atlantic Southeast Airlines donated about 50 of the afghans, Philpot said.

A few afghans were donated to the school a few months back, and Philpot insisted that every student should get an afghan or quilt, kicking off the afghan drive.

"I didn't think she was thinking right that day," Veal said to her students. "But, guess what. We have more than 350 presents."

The school gathered afghans for all of its students and even had a few extra.

Jean Gaissert, coordinator for student services for Clayton County schools, made a few quilts herself and donated them to the project. Gaissert began her teaching career by teaching sixth grade at Hendrix Drive Elementary.

"I have a special place in my heart for this school," she said.

Many of the students wouldn't have something to call their own without the project, Philpot said.

"There's probably a little bit more than a few that are economically disadvantaged," Philpot said.

According to the school system's nutrition department, 83.7 percent of Hendrix Drive's students receive free or reduced lunches, an indicator of the students' financial need. About 65 percent of the whole school system receive free or reduced lunches.