Christmas came early for 20 students in a Columbia County after-school program.
The students, ranging from second- to fifth-graders, were accompanied by about 40 Columbia County firefighters through Walmart in Evans on Wednesday to spend $150 however they wanted.
The money, raised through Columbia County Fire Rescue’s annual boot drive, was donated to Columbia County Community Connections, which houses the Dream Academy After School Program. The program serves s students from North Harlem and Euchee Creek elementary schools.
“We do homework, we have clubs which are called language arts, math, music, art, and the sciences. And we try to give them a real life experience,” said Dream Academy Director Betty Kelley. “We have a restaurant and we have a store. So we try to give them a lot of opportunities to know how to deal with the real world.”
The department’s boot drive this year brought in more than $75,000, which was split between Columbia County Community Connections and the Southeastern Firefighters Burn Foundation, which provide housing and food to families of burn victims at Doctors Hospital.
North Harlem Elementary student Venturious Holcomb, 11, bought clothes, toys and a skateboard with the help of Lt. Joe Vines and firefighter Craig Chivers.
Kelley said the shopping opportunity was special to the families.
“We have kids that would not have the opportunity to get Christmas gifts, so it means so much to them,” Kelley said. “Some of the parents, not foster parents, but they’re taking on their sister’s children or their brother’s children and they have other children, so by having this help it is welcome because they can’t afford it, they really can’t afford to give them the Christmas that they want.”