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School of Education Student Uses Facebook to Get Gifts to Disadvantaged Kids

With help from volunteer elves across the country and one LMU graduate student, Christmas arrived early for 156 students at St. Athanasius Catholic School in Long Beach.

Renée Stoeckle is a student in the School of Education’s PLACE Corps program, which places education graduate students in teaching positions at local Catholic schools. Stoeckle got the idea to give back after one of her students told her that Santa had never been to his house. “I wanted Santa to visit my students at least once in their lives,” Stoeckle said.

Stoeckle posted a message on Facebook announcing Project Elf, telling family and friends about her plan to provide gifts to her students. In short order, more than 110 “elves” from 21 states volunteered to participate.

Thanks to their generosity, each student in kindergarten through fourth grade at St. Athanasius will receive toys and a book for Christmas. Those in fifth through eighth grade will each receive a book. Other donors offered tuition assistance and uniforms for students. One even donated a Christmas tree.

“None of the elves have ever met these students. I am amazed and thrilled at the generosity of my friends, family and people who I do not know, who are willing to help these students celebrate Christmas,” Stoeckle said.

Stoeckle is in her second year of PLACE Corps. The post-graduate program in the School of Education has had a broad impact on schools in the Los Angeles area. In the 2010-11 school year, PLACE Corps members are teaching at more than twenty-five Catholic schools in the city.