In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” the Ghost of Christmas Present reveals two urchins — a boy who embodies Ignorance and a girl who embodies Want — clinging hidden beneath his robes.
“Spirit, are they yours?” asks an aghast Ebenezer Scrooge.
“They are Man’s …,” says the spirit, looking down on the children, who represent the sure consequences of society’s abandonment of those in need. “Beware them both …”
On Monday afternoon, 11-year-old Emerson Pereira, who plays the character of Want in the Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s production of the story, changed into a far more jubilant costume.
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In red-and-green pointy shoes, striped socks and a pointy hat, she became one of Santa Claus’ happy elves as she and other cast members from the KC Rep’s production delivered gifts to some 600 children attending the Della Lamb Elementary Charter School, where more than 98 percent of the students are impoverished enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
More than half of the kindergarten to eighth-grade students are immigrants. Many are refugees from poor or embattled countries, including Somalia, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Iraq and Iran. Some arrived in the U.S. only within the last six months.
“It’s so fun. I love it,” Emerson, a sixth-grader at the Pembroke Hill School, said, smiling in between passing out gifts to the school’s second- and third-graders. Her little sister, Lela, 8, also dressed as an elf as part of two Rep teams that included a Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus for the younger children, and another Santa and Mrs. Claus plus elves for the older students.
The gift-giving effort was inspired by the Dickens classic and spearheaded this year by members of the crew and cast, as well as by the child cast members’ parents, who did much of the organizing, including helping collect donated gifts throughout the play’s seasonal run.
“It’s the whole crux of the show, the meaning of the show,” said Kim Stout, 48, of Shawnee, a prime organizer who on Monday dressed up as one of the Mrs. Clauses.
Her son, Andrew, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at Mill Creek Middle School, also dressed as an elf. He plays young Ebenezer Scrooge in the Rep production, as well as the character Simon.
“I like how we’re able to connect that (the play) to the real world,” Andrew said. His dad, Randy Stout, dressed as one of the Santa Clauses.
Stout and organizer Sharon Burns, 39, of Lansing — whose son, Marek, 9, also plays the roles of Simon and young Scrooge on alternate performances — said the idea of giving to Della Lamb came from Rep stage manager Brooke Redler, whose father was deeply involved with the Della Lamb Community Services organization and used to play Santa Claus for the kids.
Della Lamb Principal Jennifer Wilson, 39, choked with emotion when talking about the kids at the school, which operates at two sites, but whose prime building is at 414 Wallace Ave.
“When they first enter the country, they literally have nothing,” Wilson said. “They need clothes. They need food. They need education. Some have never been to school before.”
The need is so intense that each year Della Lamb Community Services, the umbrella organization over the schools, also conducts Operation Santa Claus, which provides clothes such as socks and hats and gloves and underwear, as well as holiday gifts, to some 1,700 needy Kansas City families, with about 3,000 children among them. Many of the gifts the the Rep collected over its season went to that effort, which was held over four days last week.
The gifts they gave out Monday came from other donors.
At midday, 8- and 9-year-old kids beamed to see a jolly Santa and his wife, followed by a band of tiny elves flood into their classrooms.
“Ho, ho, ho,” Santa bellowed, grabbing his belly. “Merrrry Christmas!”
Of course, some of the newest student arrivals have little knowledge of Christmas traditions.
“Some of them have never seen snow, or Santa or snowmen,” Wilson said. “It’s exciting to see them learn.”
One at a time, Santa called the kids to his side: Mohamed and Saiid and Yusuf, Yacin, Liliana, Almas and Isaac …
The elves handed them stockings filled with candy, a book wrapped in shiny paper and a gift. Quietly, and smiling, the kids returned to their seats.
“One, two, three!” Santa counted down. At three, the kids ripped open their gifts, the same for all: Hot Wheel race cars for the boys, princess and prince puppets for the girls. Plus the book, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
Then off Santa went, making his way down the hallway, with Mrs. Claus and the gaggle of elves trailing behind.
For a short while at least, Want played no role.