Rancho Santa Fe resident adopts a school for Christmas

Ellen Kiss, center, with her "elves" Denise Gleavey and Heather Harris.
(Karen Billing)

Every year, Rancho Santa Fe resident Ellen Kiss’ Christmas shopping list is full of the names of kids she’s never met.

Out of the kindness of her heart, Kiss adopts a school full of children and makes it her merry mission to make their Christmas bright. For the third year in a row, Kiss treated the children at St. Rita’s Catholic School in Lincoln Park to a Christmas party full of fun and surprises.

At the party at St. Rita’s on Dec. 15, Kiss was helped out by her “elves”, friends and fellow realtors Denise Gleavey, Heather Harris and Sandra Frank.

Kids ages pre-school through sixth grade filled a multi-purpose room, enjoyed a snack and got a chance to visit with Santa and then received bags full of gifts like coloring books, toys and nearly every child got a stuffed animal. One boy tossed his new football in the air, another was thrilled to receive a new backpack.

The room radiated joy as the kids opened their presents and it was impossible not to get wrapped up in it. Kiss was at the center of it all, with a big smile.

St. Rita's students open up their presents.
(Karen Billing)

“If I could touch one little person’s life, and that they could remember this for a long, long time to come, that’s really important,” she said.

Kiss has been helping underserved children since 2003, always selecting Title 1 schools, schools in which children from low-income families make up at least 40% of the enrollment. Along with a fellow realtor, she had been looking for a way to give back and started out by throwing a Hawaiian party for a school in Jamacha. Eventually, it evolved into a Christmastime charity.

“I started with one classroom and now I take on the whole school,” said Kiss, who has hosted the party at St. Rita’s for the last three years.

Kids lined up for Santa and Ellen Kiss handed out stuffed animals.
(Karen Billing)

Kiss is shopping and collecting gifts and donations all year long for the Christmas party. In addition to each child’s bag of gifts, her elves and St. Rita’s teachers distributed clothing, shoes and books that had been donated. Kiss also purchased gifts for the teachers. There were six giant teddy bears sitting in chairs around the room—toward the end of the party, six lucky students who found a picture placed under their seats were gifted the cuddly companions.

“This is just such a wonderful gift to our school community,” said St. Rita’s Principal Gina Olsen. “The generosity is amazing.”

Ellen Kiss at her holiday party at St. Rita's
(Karen Billing)