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Two students in the Roanoke Rapids Graded School District are teaming up for a toy drive to help exceptional children.

The project, which is led by Elizabeth Colston, a junior at the high school, and Connor Johnson, an eighth-grader at Chaloner, is a drive where toys will be distributed to exceptional children within the school district.

They are also scheduling photo shoots through Les Atkins Photography for a visit with Sensitive Santa, a Santa who has experience with special needs children, Atkins said. “Sometimes they don’t get to have this experience. After doing the hero night in the summer I saw these kids’ faces light up wearing these costumes and being part of something different.”

Those summer shoots were done in conjunction with the Autism Society of North Carolina Halifax County Chapter and were a success, he said. “When I was asked to have Santa at my studio, I agreed to do this. We’ll have a nice Christmas set in the studio with a big red chair for the jolly old man.”

Colston said, “This Christmas we wanted to have something positive for special needs children. We saw other people doing this in other areas and thought it would be cool.”

Through her involvement with special needs children, Colston has learned, “They’re not afraid to be themselves. They don’t care what other people think about them. You can learn a lot from them.”

Like Colston, who has been heavily involved in community service projects, Johnson wants to do the same thing and has been involved in projects through Junior Beta. “I like helping around the community. I’ve been involved in community service since seventh grade. I think it will really benefit and help them smile. They’re not afraid to be themselves.”

The two are collecting new toys to give to boys and girls. Drop-off locations are Chaloner Middle School, Discount Tire of Roanoke Rapids and Spartan X Fit in Roanoke Rapids.

Tracy Story of Discount Tire is offering an extra incentive for people who bring in a new and unwrapped toy — a $20 credit for any purchase made at the business.

The donation deadline is no later than November 26.

When the toys are collected, Colston said, they will be distributed to exceptional children classes at Clara Hearne, Manning and Belmont elementary schools, Chaloner and Roanoke Rapids High Schools.

The photo shoots with Santa are scheduled for November 29 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Les Atkins Photography on Roanoke Avenue by appointment only. Those wanting to schedule an appointment should call Colston at 252-532-9187 or 252-308-3393.

The cooperation of Atkins and Story has been crucial to the project, Colston said. “Both are involved in community service. Les and Tracy have done a lot. They want to energize everyone to make Christmas better and put smiles on their faces.”

Atkins, who also serves as spokesman for the school system, said, “I applaud these students for coming up with this on their own and coming up with sponsors on their own. They have done the work. That’s true leadership. They saw a need.”