Low-income students at Roadrunner Elementary School received their gifts early this year, thanks to philanthropic volunteers who played Santa Claus.

Due to the generosity and fundraising efforts of Catalina Mountain Elks Lodge No. 2815, 35 students received shoes, clothing and winter coats.

Kristina Brewer, principal of the rural Marana school, said it was uplifting to see the joy in her students’ faces. “It was wonderful — one of the best days of the year,” she said.

The Elks treated the kids to the shopping spree Dec. 14, busing them to JC Penney at Tucson Mall. School administrators chose participants based on financial need.

“Their favorite thing was their new shoes,” Brewer said of the students. “Most of them were wearing them by the time they left the mall. They also wore their jackets, and the girls loved getting new dresses. It was a lot of fun.”

Elks volunteers escorted each child through the store, helping them choose their clothing. After they were finished, the group took the kids to the lodge in Catalina for a pizza banquet, where kids received toys they had requested.

“They’re wonderful,” Brewer said of the Elks, adding that they also donate art supplies and dictionaries to the school. 

Brewer said 80 percent of Roadrunner students are economically disadvantaged. She hears stories daily about parents struggling to pay bills and clothe their kids. Some families are homeless. The K-6 school has 420 students.

Catalina Mountain Elks spokeswoman Pat Cox said the Elks’ good cheer matched that of the children.

“It’s really a very rewarding experience, to see all the joy it brings to these kids,” she said.

The Elks raised more than $5,000 to pull off the event.

Amy Walton, whose children Zanden, 7, and Bricyn, 6, both of whom are in first grade, participated in the shopping spree, said the gift was a godsend. The boys are part of a seven-child family. Walton and her husband, Justin, can use all the help they can get.

“This helped tremendously,” she said. “The boys are still talking about it. They wore their new jeans, shirts and shoes and are so excited.”

Zanden said he had a good time picking out new clothes and thinks like his new shoes make him run faster and jump higher. “It was fun,” he said before expressing his appreciation for the Elks. “They were so nice.”

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or pvillarreal@azstarnet.com