BUFFALO, N.Y. – In Buffalo's fruit belt district, one elementary school teacher along with friends and volunteers went above and beyond to make sure his class had an all-out Christmas experience.
"I've devoted my 28 years to the children of the inner City of Buffalo, and I'm very glad to be able to do it and to know people who help me get the job done,” teacher Michael Terragnoli said.
Those people include Julie Knapp, Holli Draves, and Shaila Aurora, who collectively raised the funds and donations to treat Terragnoli's class to an upscale holiday party, filled with food, fun and gifts. It became the inception of their project “Adopt A Classroom,” something they hope to continue in the future while telling others to do the same.
Restaurant and hotel owner and philanthropist Russell Salvatore helped out with the space and lunch, too.
"It's Christmas, and it makes me feel good inside,” Salvatore said. “I'll help, anything I can do to help the community happy, and it makes me feel happy.”
Knapp and her team of “Santa's elves” made sure the party includes crafts, a photo booth, a visit from DJ Anthony, and of course, Santa.
"We started pounding the pavement, hitting Facebook, all the social medias and asking people if they want to take part, and everybody has stepped up to the plate and we've made something really amazing for these kids,” Knapp said.
School 37 is in Buffalo's fruit belt district. Terragnoli – or Mr. T, as the kids call him – recognizes the children may not may not get to celebrate the holidays quite like this.
"Wonderful families, but low-income families that possibly don't have the opportunity to come do this,” Terragnoli said.
And that swayed principal Serena Restivo to approve this non-traditional field trip.
"Knowing the experience that the children were going to have today…so hesitation whatsoever,” Restivo said, who attended to help out.
Every part of the kids' day was all made possible by donations and volunteers.
“Buffalo really is the City of Good Neighbors,” Knapp said.
The Adopt A Classroom project was so successful, its impact went beyond the second-grade classroom's party. Thanks to the efforts of volunteers, the funds raised allowed them to buy pizza for grades pre school-8, give gifts to the other second-grade class, donate blankets to the school's blanket drive, and help stock a food pantry.
Knapp hopes the idea catches on. Terragnoli hopes the experience is one his students always remember.
"The joy on their faces...to see them experience something that they've never done before. The smiles, the laughter, it's been wonderful,” he said.