School bus the site for special party |

School bus the site for special party

The Union StaffTOP LEFT (clockwise): Nicole Baldwin, bus driver Leissa George, Keri Melto and Roland Vieira.
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Knowing that some of the kids on school bus Route 22 wouldn’t have a big Christmas, about 50 teenagers chipped in and played “surprise Santa” Friday morning.

At 8:23 a.m., school bus driver Leissa George pulled up at the bus stop on Sutton Way in front of the Nevada Woods apartments. About 20 unsuspecting students from Scotten, Bell Hill, Hennessy and Lyman Gilmore students got on.

Ninety seconds later, George pulled over at the Olympia Gardens apartment complex. More kids got on.

The only thing a little irregular was a few over-age riders that morning.

George steered the bus, through wind and rain and sleet and melting snow, a little farther down Sutton Way. Then she pulled over to the side of the road to perform an alleged brake check.

“The reason the high schoolers are on the bus is we did a special thing for you guys,” George told her passengers.

About a month ago, a high school student riding her bus home announced he’d “found” a basketball in the back of the bus. George, a well-liked driver with a no-nonsense manner, directed the lad to return the ball to the lost-and-found box. The basketball belonged to one of her elementary school passengers who lives in one of the subsidized apartment complexes on Sutton Way, George recalled telling the high school student.

“‘It took that kid three months to save up for that basketball,'” George told the youth. When she outlined for the high school students how little some of her younger passengers had in the way of material goods and cash on hand, some of the older students decided to play Santa.

The high schoolers asked for first names and ages of the younger passengers, divided up the list and bought 67 presents.

And Nevada Union students Keri Melton, Nicole Baldwin and Roland Vieira, George’s stepson, were on the bus Friday morning to give out their classmates’ wrapped gifts to the younger kids on their way to school.

George introduced Melton and Baldwin, who got a round of applause from the youngsters.

“Who’s Cody?” asked Baldwin. A young hand went up, and Baldwin handed a present to a bug-eyed boy.

“Who’s Shelby?” Melton asked. Another present handed over.

“Who’s Maria?” Baldwin asked, looking for a raised hand.

Another school bus pulled over to the side and George went out to explain to driver Gigi Theos that there was no problem, just a Christmas celebration going on.

George, who must hold to a schedule, told the kids she had to start driving again.

“Each one of you is going to get a present!” George promised.

With all the adroitness of an flight attendant, Baldwin navigated the aisle in the moving bus, matching up gifts with kids.

A 7-year-old boy shook his gift. “I think it’s a puzzle!”

Wrapping paper flew, but some kids saved opening their presents for later.

First stop, Hennessy School.

“Merry Christmas, you guys!” George yelled.

“Thank you!” dozens of voice rang out.

Melton sat down after many minutes of using the skills of a competition surfer to get presents to kids on a moving bus.

“Well, I did my Christmas deed for a while,” she said. “As long as they’re all happy.”

Judging by how more than 60 kids clasped their new gifts getting off the bus that day, she needn’t have wondered.

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