As a 4-year-old picking out presents at a toy drive at Chattanooga High School, all Lafrederick Thirkill wanted was a Big Wheel. But another boy beat him to it.
On Monday, Thirkill, now the principal of Orchard Knob Elementary School, finally got his own set of plastic wheels.
But more importantly, each of the 500-plus Orchard Knob students received gifts of their own.
The gifts came from members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Silverdale Baptist Academy, who collected more than 1,000 toys for all preschoolers through fifth-graders at Orchard Knob, a school in which more than 85 percent of students are considered impoverished.
"Today is a life-changing day for many of our students," Thirkill said. "This is a day they will never forget for the rest of their lives."
Toys were separated by age group and gender as children selected from basketballs, toy trucks, board games, scooters and dolls, among other items.
Preschoolers and kindergartners snuggled on the laps of Silverdale students as they began to test out their new toys.
"They've never even met," said Christie Johnson, who works in the development office at Silverdale Baptist Academy. "They're strangers. A lot of people would shy away. That's the beauty. That's how you know it's God."
Silverdale's fellowship asked the school for gifts but also collected cash and gifts from the Silverdale Baptist Church community.
"The kids did it all," Johnson said. "They were passionate about it."
Thomas Leslie, 17 and a senior fellowship officer, said students gathered more than $1,000 in donations from small group leaders at the church in addition to the hundreds of gifts brought in by students.
"It was awesome. It makes me want to take them home," he said.
Silverdale students said they most enjoyed spending time with the youngsters and seeing them play with their new gifts.
"It was mind-blowing," said 15-year-old Sloane Woodward, a sophomore Fellowship of Christian Athletes officer.
The idea for the gift-giving came from a Silverdale employee with a friend who worked at Orchard Knob and knew of the school's need.
"It started with a simple idea and God just took it and made it bigger and bigger," Leslie said.
After Silverdale staff members and students presented the principal with his Big Wheel, Thirkill squeezed in and took it for an honorary spin around the gymnasium.
"I finally got my Big Wheel," he said.
Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...