Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 11, 2013

SALISBURY — As a toy train overpowered the roar of nearly 60 North Hills students Tuesday afternoon, kids got to play Santa for a day in what could have been an elf’s satellite workshop.

Fifty-eight students from fifth and first grades collected almost $700 by doing household chores for teacher Leslie Hunsucker’s annual holiday class charity project. Students spent the money Tuesday at a local Big Lots and the toys were then taken to the Spencer Doll and Toy Museum and placed in a Toys for Tots drop box.

“They have to earn the money. We don’t want them to go home and ask for handouts,” Hunsucker said. “We want them to be vested in it. You’re going to feel better about it if you’re vested in it.”

Hunsucker said her class has conducted the project for around five years. Some years she’s worked with the Salvation Army, she said, but decided to partner with Toys for Tots this year.

“The kids liked that idea, so we ran with it,” she said.

As a part of the program, fifth graders partnered with their first-grade “reading buddies” to raise the money — and decide which toys to buy.

Beth Nance, who helped found the museum, chortled as the youngsters bounded into the Fourth Street storefront Tuesday.

“I was very fortunate growing up. I never lacked for anything, especially at Christmas time,”?Nance said. “As a parent now, I can’t imagine a child not having something at Christmas. And then the connection to the museum just seemed natural. Toys, dolls, Toys for Tots — it just seemed like a good pairing.”

This was Nance’s first year hosting a Toys for Tots drop box at the 18-month-old museum.

But the students quickly took to the atmosphere, dropping off toys and looking around at the decades-old dolls and a intricate train set that sped along half the museum.

Micah Cross, an 11-year-old, said he and his first-grade reading partner, Kanji, browsed Big Lots’ aisles until they settled on a set of toy cars, a case for the cars, an Avengers punching bag and a $5 game.

“I thought it was a very sweet idea of making kids happy for Christmas,” Cross said.

Ava Corriher, 10, said her sister was in the program last year and enjoyed being able to give to other children’s families who could use the gifts.

“It was really fun being able to shop for Toys for Tots because you were able to buy stuff for other kids who weren’t able to buy stuff,” Corriher said, “and it was fun to be able to bring stuff here to the doll museum.”

Eli Huffman said he was worried they wouldn’t have much money to work with when the class first started with about $5 for each student duo, but the amount jumped to $28 for each pair after three weeks of fundraising.

“I was scared that we didn’t have enough at first. It started at $5 then we had like $28 each,” Huffman said. “It was kind of cool having all that money.”

Huffman said he thought the project helped he and his classmates have a different view of kids who are less fortunate around the holidays.

Still, after Huffman dropped a Connect 4 game and Batman figure into the box, he wondered aloud if the kids on the other end of the wrapping paper would share his interests.

“I hope the kids we deliver to like these presents,” he said.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.