CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - Organizers for the 12th annual Student Santa event gave children and families toys and food for Christmas this year.
Student Santa Organizer Jennifer Icaza-Gast said the group wanted to provide more children with toys and asked that families who could use a little extra help let them know.
"The need is actually here in Cape Girardeau," Icaza-Gast said. "A lot of people don't know this but there are kids and families that are struggling every single day. There are moms and dads putting their kids to bed at night hungry. There are kids on Christmas morning that they will wake up and will go into their living room and look under the tree and will find nothing."
Icaza-Gast urged families that are in need to reach out to them by writing a letter by December 15. Letters were addressed to "Student Santas."
The Student Santa event took place on Christmas Day from 12 - 2 p.m. at Jefferson Elementary School in Cape Girardeau. Workers helped roughly 600 people, that's about 250 families.
It included food provided by the Isle Casino in Cape Girardeau so those who need a hot Christmas meal received one.
Several years ago, Icaza-Gast said she received a letter from a young child saying all he wanted for Christmas was a good hot meal.
"All he wanted was a nice meal," she added. "That was what he wanted. That just broke my heart into a thousand pieces and from that moment on I knew I wanted to be able to feed people."
Icaza-Gast started volunteering at this event which she started 13 years ago. She was at home Christmas morning when it dawned on her to help others.
"On Christmas morning, when my boys were little, I would watch them run into our living room and as they were opening up their presents, I got really sad," Icaza-Gast explained. "I feel like God spoke to me that morning. I knew that there was a child that was going into their own living room and finding nothing under the tree. I was so devastated!"
Over a decade later, Icaza-Gast has helped provide toys and a hot Christmas meal for over 22,000 people. She helped provide to roughly 1,300 kids last year. Something she hopes to add another thousand to this year as well.
"We actually help everybody in the State of Missouri," Icaza-Gast said. "We've helped those in Sikeston and Poplar Bluff. We even go over into Illinois and some in Kentucky."
They were eager to help feed many families and provide some toys to children to help bring a little joy to them.
"It's a win-win," Icaza-Gast added. "To be able to give to a family, especially on Christmas Day, that's what Christmas is all about."
She also said she hopes helping others will in-turn inspire them to give to others in the future to others as well.
"If somebody sees somebody giving and see that it really feels good to give, then they in-turn will give," Icaza-Gast said. "It's just a win-win and a great feeling."
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