Sugar Plum Project brings joy

With one week until Christmas, children are excitedly chattering about what they hope to find under the tree from Santa Claus. For many children, Christmas is a day where their wishes and dreams come true.

“I’m so excited to see Santa today,” Molly, a first grader said. “I can’t wait to open my presents and sit on Santa’s lap.”

Unfortunately, many families in our area struggle to purchase presents for their children and pay their bills. Thanks to generous donations from local businesses and community members, Haywood County Schools students in need will experience the joy of the holiday season.

For the past 31 years, the Haywood County Schools Foundation’s Sugar Plum Project has provided clothing and gifts to students in need during the holiday season. The Sugar Plum Project provides Christmas for pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and first grade students enrolled in Haywood County Schools. Most of these children come from low-income families.

“It’s amazing that our community has supported the Sugar Plum Project for more than three decades,” Jenny Wood Valliere, Haywood County Schools Foundation executive director, said. “It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season, but today is all about seeing the pure joy and happiness that Christmas brings to children.”

From November 21 through December 8, children’s names were available on trees at United Community Bank, HomeTrust Bank, and Champion Credit Union. Generous community members picked out a name, bought items included on the child’s wish list, and returned it to the respective business on December 8. The Sugar Plum Project also accepted monetary donations to sponsor children.

This year, through monetary and gift donations, 95 students received an early Christmas on December 13 at a Christmas celebration at the old Hazelwood gym.

Students from the county’s eight elementary schools were treated to lunch, opened their gifts, and were surprised with a visit from Santa Claus. The children got the chance to talk with Santa and tell him about their Christmas lists.

“I like Christmas because of presents and cookies,” Amanda, a kindergartner, excitedly said. “I forgot what toys I asked for, but I’m excited to see Santa.”

This is the first year that Haywood County Schools’ Academic Support Services Director Mark Sheppard has donned the red suit and beard as Santa Claus.

“It was really an honor for me to treat the kids to a visit from Santa,” Sheppard said. “The smiles on their faces and the pure excitement they showed are what it’s all about.”

Along with the Sugar Plum Project, Haywood County Schools has worked with Evergreen Packaging and police officers from Waynesville, Maggie Valley, Canton, and Clyde, Haywood County Sheriff’s officers, Highway Patrol, and Haywood County EMS to ensure all students will have a memorable holiday season.

“Haywood County Schools is grateful for the donations of money, gifts, and time given to our students,” Wood Valliere said. “Each year, the generosity of our community blows me away.”