CMF committee brings Markham students early Christmas presents – The Vacaville Reporter


Friday was filled with smiles and cheers at Edwin Markham Elementary School in Vacaville.

It wasn’t just because it was a minimum day or the last day before winter vacation, but the 935 students received at least one early Christmas present thanks to the California Medical Facility Employee Activity Committee. (CMF).

From gifts as small as teddy bears to gifts as big as bicycles, all were items Markham pupils specifically requested in a wish list they compiled in November. Now they were able to march with new items to start the winter break on a positive note.

“There are easily 2,000 freebies in this place right now,” Principal Amye Scott said.

It wasn’t the first time the CMF team had collaborated with Markham for a giveaway, but it was the first in a long time. A similar event happened in 2008, and it turned out to be the impetus for that year’s distribution.

CMF health program specialist Jennifer Smith was cleaning her office at the prison when she came across a large manila envelope containing more than 20 thank you cards handmade by Markham students who had received the gifts in 2008 .

“I was just reading through them, thinking how good those kids must have felt when they got those gifts,” she said. “I decided to try to see where these kids were at.”

Year five teacher at Markham Primary School, Zyanya Bocanegra (right) receives a big hug from her pupil, Maria Moya, 10, after opening her special Christmas present bought by staff from the activities committee CMF employees. Bocanegra benefited from the holiday gift program when she attended Markham in 2008. (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)

During his research, Smith learned that one of the students – Zyanya Bocanegra – still lived in Vacaville. In fact, she is a fifth grade teacher at Markham.

“When I met her, she was emotional,” Smith said. “She came back to that moment and she remembered how she felt and how excited she was, and when she saw her friends, how excited they were.”

Smith was not part of the employee activity committee, which promotes unity among CMF staff and gives back to the community, in 2008, but she wanted to bring back the giveaway for 2021.

“I wanted to recreate it,” Smith said. “It was such a good thing, and we have pictures that we took (at the time) of all those students…receiving their presents and being excited about what they had.”

The CMF committee sent out its first round of volunteers in November, who came into classrooms and helped students make wish lists.

“Most of these students wrote two or three things on those wishlists,” Scott said. “When these volunteers met these students, they said they were so impressed with the spirit of these children and their caring.”

Volunteers worked to purchase as many of the requested items as possible, primarily through Amazon. Most students who requested two or three items received all of them. Most asked for toys or other tangible gifts, but Scott said others went the extra mile.

“We’ve had students who said, ‘I just want my whole family together for Christmas,’ or students who said, ‘I wish I had a special pencil for everyone in my class,'” a- she declared. “There were a lot of kids asking for gifts on behalf of others, and I think that’s what really sparked the generosity in part of the group at CMF.

Carla Gomez, 11 (right), a year six pupil at Markham Primary School, reacts to seeing the skateboard she requested for Christmas after getting help opening a classmate’s present , Tynia Austin, 11 Friday at school. (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)

Markham is a Title 1 school with about 71% of students from low-income families, and some don’t even have homes to start with, so the prospect of receiving Christmas gifts they’ve specifically requested added to excitement for them. Scott said a staff meeting was held on Wednesday and some teachers had tears in their eyes when the gift was discussed.

“The generosity and spirit of this gift was a gift to all teachers and staff here,” she said.

Volunteers loaded trucks and delivered gifts to each class. Because Bocanegra was a student during the previous gift distribution, her class was able to do something no other class could do: open a gift right away.

Students received books, Legos, plastic army tanks, Boost boots, trains, dollhouses and more. Students who requested larger gifts were able to open them in a separate room, and the excitement was evident as they discovered bicycles, skateboards, scooters and a large canister of Nickelodeon Slime.

Scott even shared the story of Bocanegra being part of the program and even presented her with the original thank you card she made and submitted to CMF at the time. The card included the text “Thank you, CMF” next to a school photo of Bocanegra at the time taped to construction paper.

Markham Primary School principal Amye Scott shares a letter written by current Markham teacher Zyanya Bocanegra who attended the school and benefited from the Employee Activity Committee members Christmas Wishes program from the California Medical Facility. (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)

“If you ever thought writing thank you letters wasn’t important, now you know,” Scott told the class.

Bocanegra told the reporter that she didn’t expect to see the card she made again and that the sight of it “brought me to tears.” She shared how excited she felt at the time, being in fourth grade and getting exactly what she asked for: a Build-A-Bear with a couch.

“I thought it was great to get exactly what I wanted,” she said. “When I wrote the wish list, I didn’t expect to get exactly what I wanted, and seeing my other classmates’ happiness also brought me immense joy.”

Bocanegra said the reaction from his students was “priceless.”

“It’s something they will remember for the rest of their lives,” she said.


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