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Azel Prather Jr.

Kindergarten teacher does a Santa Claus impression and delivers gifts to almost 350 kids

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WASHINGTON (CIRCA) — December is typically referred to as "the season of giving." It's a term that's become synonymous with being generous, especially to those in need.

However, it's not always easy to target which individuals actually need help.

Fewer people know that better than teachers. They have children of all different walks of life come into their classrooms every day. According to kindergarten teacher Azel Prather Jr., once you get to know them, you can tell which ones need the most help.

"I've got parents that work two, three jobs to do for the kids," said Prather, who works at the KIPP DC Arts & Technology Academy in Washington. "We all know what the holiday season feels like. Some us know what it feels like to not have anything to open, and some of us know what it feels like to have a thousand gifts to open."

Azel Prather Jr.
Azel Prather Jr. teaches kindergarten at Kipp DC Arts &amp; Technology Academy.

That's why Prather took it upon himself to make sure that all of his students at KIPP DC could enjoy the holidays, regardless of their living situations. He spent his extra time organizing efforts to get gifts for every student in his class. He reached out to friends, then to people on social media, and the outpouring of support was overwhelming.

"People are open when they know you're doing it for the right reason," Prather explained. "I had no problems getting people to say, 'Hey, where are you? Let me meet you with gifts. Hey, what's your cash app? I want to send you some money so you could do some more.' So when you're doing it for the right reasons, this is genuine. It just becomes easy."

Azel Prather Jr. in Atlanta
Last year, Azel Prather Jr. delivered gifts to 15 of his kids that he taught in Atlanta.

His original goal was to get enough money for the 26 kids in his class. After the immediate social media response, he thought he would be able to get gifts for more than 100 kids. But the donations never stopped coming, and he received enough money to get more than one gift for every student in prekindergarten and kindergarten. That's close to 350 students.

"I don't care about who (is getting one gift for Christmas). I don't care about who (is getting 100 gifts for Christmas). I want everybody here to know that people do love you," Prather said. "People do care about you. All you gotta do is keep doing the right thing."

Azel Prather in Atlanta 2
Azel Prather Jr. has given gifts to students two years in a row.

This isn't the first time Prather tried his hand at replacing Santa Claus. Last year, he did something similar for 15 of his students in Atlanta. Back then, because the number of students was lower, he delivered gifts himself to each child's home. This year in Washington, the kids received their gifts all at once. And despite the fact that spending several hours wrapping hundreds of gifts was time consuming, Prather knew the effort would lead to a favorable outcome.

"The smiles and whatever they do for those couple minutes or those couple of seconds when they play — everything I did beforehand is worth it," he said.

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