Students share spirit of Christmas with Macon family

Students from North Mecklenburg High School in North Carolina didn’t come to Shonda Wright’s Macon home by chimney Sunday, but their arrival was just as magical as if they had.

The 26 students, accompanied by 11 chaperones, traveled about 300 miles and five and a half hours from their hometown of Huntersville, a suburb of Charlotte, to deliver gifts and food to Wright, her 11 children, ages 10 months to 13 years, their grandmother Nelloweze and Wright’s boyfriend, Wilson.

The students had adopted the family through local organization Project Giving after searching online for a family to help for the holidays.

A caravan of about a dozen cars arrived Sunday afternoon at Wright’s home in Village Green, with students hauling plastic boxes of canned goods, wrapped gifts and even a washer and dryer for Wright, the only item she asked for.

As the presents and the people piled into the living room, the crowd eventually moved outside.

“This is a real blessing. It’s going to be the best Christmas ever. I’m just so happy,” said Wright, 28.

“We’ve done this for 14 years. This is absolutely a first,” said Toni Slade, who co-founded Project Giving with her husband, Lance. “This is unbelievable. It’s amazing they traveled three states away.”

The students raised about $500 with a fundraising contest among biology teacher Barbara O’Donnell’s four classes, sophomore Rai Burton said with tears in her eyes.

”Bringing down the presents and seeing their faces is exciting, overwhelming,” Burton said.

“That was my Christmas. It was the best gift I got this year,” freshman Emily Henderson said of the experience.

The group arrived in Macon on Saturday evening and stayed at Northway Church on Zebulon Road. After delivering the gifts, they plan to return to North Carolina.

“Are you going to let them open (the gifts) now?” Toni Slade asked Wright.

“Mmm mmm,” Wright said, but later conceded to let each child open one gift before Christmas.

Among the children, 6-year-old Shidajua tested out her new purple bike and a gray helmet around the cul-de-sac almost immediately.

“I’m going to ride it again,” she said.

The oldest child of the clan, 13-year-old Briana, got a pair of jeans.

“(It was) exciting. I didn’t expect it to be big,” she said.

“I’m very thankful for what they did.”

As a child growing up, O’Donnell was one of four daughters raised by her mother in Buffalo, N.Y.

One Christmas growing up, O’Donnell said her own family received Christmas gifts from the community. Before that, she remembered seeing her mother unhappy.

“I remember I was happy she was happy the kids got to celebrate Christmas,” O’Donnell said. “I hope that’s something the kids remember.”

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.