‘I just love seeing them smile’: teacher and friend organize annual toy action for Cleveland students

Shelby Colon and Megan Coleman have been making holidays special for students since 2018.

CLEVELAND. For the last few years, two childhood friends have been working together to make Cleveland’s first graders have an unforgettable vacation.

Shelby Colon and Megan Coleman have been friends since school drawing lessons. They now live close to each other in Eastlake and Mentor, respectively. Colon became a first grade teacher at Metro Catholic School in Cleveland, and Coleman has her own hairdressing business.

Two women reminisce about how special Christmas was as a child, and how they enjoyed the gifts and excitement associated with the holiday when they were children. Now, as adults, they hope to bring that joy to the students in Colon’s class through an annual toy promotion.

“For me, being younger, we always had a really good Christmas,” Coleman said. “I just wanted them to experience it.”

In 2018, after a pumpkin carving day with first grader Colon, she and Coleman joined forces to find a way to do something special for the students, some of whose families needed extra help during the holidays. Coleman reached out to her clients, asking them if they were interested in donating to the toy movement in exchange for discounted services or lottery tickets.

“Everyone said, ‘I want to do my best,’ so it was amazing,” Coleman said of the responses she received.

They have been collecting gifts ever since, changing their plans only a year later during COVID when they were collecting school supplies for the kids instead.

Colón enjoys seeing her students receive gifts.

“Just the joy on their faces, I just love seeing them smile,” Colón explained, getting emotional. “It just makes them happy in that moment and I just want to see them happy and successful.”

“The best thing for me is just to see their reaction. It’s worth it,” Coleman added. “Just seeing their faces light up, they show everyone their stuff and they’re so grateful.”

This year, all 16 students of Colón received five or six gifts ranging from dinosaurs to pajamas, unicorns and more.

“We asked for games this year because I think it’s really important for them to learn life skills — losing, winning, and also how to deal with it — that’s why we asked for it this year,” Colón said. “We [also] asked for books – because a lot of them don’t have books at home – to help build their own personal library and stuff, just so they can enjoy reading because that’s what I like the most.”

Colón also runs a book promotion every year so her students have new books to read together. While she and Coleman hope these gifts brighten up the students’ days, they also hope they carry with them a more important life lesson, a lesson in kindness and generosity.

“I hope as they mature they learn to see that the kindness of her clients can be generated through them as well,” Colón told us. “They can be kind. It doesn’t always have to be about money, gifts and things like that, but just the kindness of her and her clients that they can also bring out into the world.”

“I just hope people can be kind and generous, just think of others and give to people who are less fortunate,” Coleman said.

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