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'I just love to see them smile': Teacher, friend organize annual toy drive for Cleveland students

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

CLEVELAND — For the past few years, two friends from childhood work together to ensure a class of first graders in Cleveland have a holiday season to remember.

Shelby Colón and Megan Coleman have been friends since art class in high school. The two now live just a quick drive away from one another in Eastlake and Mentor, respectively. Colón went on to become a first grade teacher at Metro Catholic School in Cleveland, while Coleman has her own business as a hairstylist.

The two women recall how special Christmas was growing up, and how they enjoyed the gifts and excitement surrounding the holiday as kids. Now, as adults, they're hoping to bring that excitement to students in Colón's class through an annual toy drive.

"For me, being younger, we always had a really nice Christmas," said Coleman. "I just wanted them to experience that."

In 2018, after a day of pumpkin carving with Colón's first grade class, she and Coleman put their heads together to find a way to do something special for the students, some of whose families needed a little extra help around the holidays. Coleman turned to her clients, asking them if they would be interested in donating to a toy drive in exchange for discounted services or raffle tickets.

"Everybody was like, 'I want to do what I can,' so it was amazing," Coleman said of the responses she received.

The two have been collecting gifts since then, only changing their plans one year during COVID, when they instead collected school supplies for the kids.

For Colón, seeing her students receive their gifts is rewarding.

"Just the joy on their faces, I just love to see 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 part for me is just seeing their reaction. It makes everything worth it," Coleman added. "Just seeing their faces light up, they show everybody their stuff, and they're just so grateful."

This year, all 16 of Colón’s students received five to six gifts each — from dinosaurs to pajamas to unicorns and more.

"This year, we asked for games, because I think it's really important for them to learn life skills — losing, winning, and how to cope and deal with that — so that was something that we asked for this year," Colón said. "We [also] asked for books — because a lot of them don't have books at home — to help start their own personal library and things like that, just so they can enjoy reading, because that's what I enjoy most."

Colón also hosts a book drive every year so her students have new books that they can read together. While she and Coleman both hope these gifts brighten the students' days, they also hope they take away a larger life lesson, one of kindness and generosity.

"I hope that as they grow up they learn to see that the kindness of her clients can generate through them, too," Colón told us. "They can be kind. It doesn’t have to always be about money and gifts and things like that, but just the kindness of her and her clients, they can take out into the world as well."

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

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