For years, Texas school bus driver Curtis Jenkins has been getting the kids on his bus route little gifts ― pencils, pens ― for receiving good grades and doing good deeds.
But for his seventh year driving for the Richardson Independent School District, Jenkins told HuffPost he wanted to do something bigger for his kids, “to let them know I appreciate them.”
So on Dec. 21, the last day before winter break at Lake Highlands Elementary school, Jenkins packed his yellow school bus with presents for every single one of the kids on his route ― more than 50 children in total.
The presents weren’t purchased at random; Jenkins had asked each child what he or she wanted for Christmas and went out to buy exactly those gifts. Some children got bicycles, others got headphones. Jenkins said he felt that kids who had asked for something smaller ― a mechanical pencil, for example ― should get a little bit more, like a coloring book, crayons, or a jump rope.
Ultimately, the bus driver said he and his wife bought and wrapped around 70 gifts.
“It was so amazing,” Jenkins told HuffPost about distributing the presents last Friday. “Just to let them know the spirit of giving and loving is still here.”
“This reminds us how much good there is in the world and how we should all strive to be a little more like Curtis,” the school wrote in its post.
Jennifer Wilcox, the elementary school’s PTA president, told HuffPost she believes Jenkins’ gesture came “out of the goodness of his heart” and not for the recognition. Still, the school’s PTA plans to acknowledge his generosity “in a special way soon,” she said.
“We are proud to have Curtis Jenkins as part of the LHE family!” Wilcox wrote in an email.
Jenkins told HuffPost that he had been planning the gesture for a long time. Over the years, the driver said he has created a system he calls “Bus Bucks,” where the kids are given little rewards for keeping the bus clean, putting on their seatbelts, and watching out for each other during rides. He said he sings songs with them in the mornings and tries to teach them life lessons.
“Every morning we say, ‘Listen, love and understand each other,’” Jenkins said, recalling one such lesson.
Jenkins said his desire to be kind to his kids is partly inspired by his Christian faith. But he said he doesn’t talk to the kids about religion at all.
“Believe in love. Love exists,” Jenkins said. “We can love each other. We don’t have to believe in everything the next one believes in.”
Jenkins said he strives to be a role model and a mentor for the kids on his route.
“I’ve been one of those children that didn’t have a lot when I was younger,” he said. “If I had a person like me as a younger man, I would have made better choices in life.”
About a year ago, he said he started to put money aside from his paychecks to do something nice for the kids on his route.
As Christmas drew closer, he told his wife he was thinking about forgoing their own presents this year to get gifts for the kids. Jenkins said his wife agreed that it would be really good for the couple to practice that kind of generosity.
In the end, he said they also used the savings he and his wife had set aside for their honeymoon to buy presents. In addition, he said he got help from a fellow bus driver and a parent who heard about what he was planning to do.
The bus driver said that since his story went viral, he’s received some backlash online, with people questioning how he was able to afford so many presents.
“It doesn’t take money, it takes discipline,” Jenkins said, referring to how he would save a little bit from each paycheck. “You can have anything you want with a little discipline.”
Jenkins said he’s hoping to do another nice gesture for his kids at the end of the next school year, before they go away for the summer.
Jenkins said he hopes his Christmas gifts inspire other acts of kindness in 2019.
“Just take the time to look at yourselves and think, if you were in another position than what you are in right now, how do you want somebody to treat you,” he said.
He said his own dream is to create a mentorship program for young people.
“I’m not rich at all. But I plan to one day be a blessing to people in need.”